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Imagine you’re watching TV, and the ad break begins. You could just flip to the next channel — but chances are, ads are playing there as well. Now what if your TV’s program guide could tell you which of your favorite channels are having an ad break at any given time?
Beamly, the social TV startup previously known as Zeebox, is working on such a guide, and it wants to bring it to TV sets everywhere, thanks to an app for Google’s(S GOOG) new Android TV platform that Beamly is set to announce Monday. It’s the first time the company has targeted TV sets after producing second-screen apps for Android and iOS(S AAPL) as well as the web, but Beamly CTO and co-founder Anthony Rose told me during an interview last week that the jump to the big screen had long been on the company’s roadmap.
“We always imagined the experience built into the TV,” he said, adding that the company even built an early prototype based on Samsung’s smart TV platform years ago. However, the TV ecosystem just wasn’t ready, which is why Beamly initially just focused on mobile apps. The second screen was simply where innovation was able to happen until TVs were ready to catch up, said Rose. And with Google’s newly-introduced Android TV platform, that moment may finally be here, he argued.
Rose’s team has now built a first prototype of a Beamly app on Android TV, which is basically a TV guide that incorporates personalization, social and interactivity. Beamly’s first-screen app is capable of interacting with Beamly’s existing mobile apps, and a key part of the experience will be a personalized TV channel based on past viewing habits as well as a user’s Beamly profile. The idea of this channel is to play programs in a TV-like fashion, but with content coming from different sources, including a variety of live TV channels and online video services. “That’s what people expect from TV. It just plays,” said Rose.
The Beamly TV app will also be able to offer interactive TV experiences, like the option to use the second screen vote on contestants in a competitive reality TV show, and Rose is also thinking about offering social and entertainment content when nothing is on TV, effectively turning the big screen into a social wall for the living room. “At the moment, TVs aren’t doing anything when they are not playing TV. But they could be,” he said.
Beamly is looking to partner with consumer electronics manufacturers to distribute the app, and Rose said that he could help hardware makers with the integration of live TV into the Android TV framework. The result could also be a white-labeled app that incorporates a subset of features based on the specific needs of a TV maker, conceded Rose, but he said that Beamly definitely wants to keep its own brand on its second-screen app. “Beamly is and remains a Beamly-branded consumer proposition,” he said.
Beamly isn’t the only company that’s coming out of the mobile TV apps pace and is now looking to replace the plain old grid guide on the TV screen. Boxfish, which first debuted its TV guide on mobile devices as well, has been squarely focused on helping consumer electronics manufacturers like Samsung add contextual smarts to their TV guide products. And Fan, which was previously known as Fanhattan, even built its own Android-based TV box, which it’s now selling to Time Warner Cable customers.
I asked Rose about the latter, and wanted to know if he ever contemplated going down that path as well. “We absolutely thought about building our own box – for about 15 minutes,” he joked, adding that Beamly is instead trying to get the software part right. “Both hardware and software can be hard spaces to be in,” he said.
That’s true — and even more so when you’re building software for a platform like Android TV that doesn’t even have hardware in the market yet. But in the face of increasing social TV consolidation and an ever-increasing engagement of Facebook and Twitter, taking the jump to the first screen nonetheless seems a smart move for Beamly.