There is a skirmish underway and it is playing out in living rooms around the world.
What happens when you take the dumbest of screens that have been the focal point in most living rooms for decades and add the hyper personalized smartphone and mash them together? Mayhem…and massive opportunity.
What does the future hold for TV and how will mobile resurrect this decades-long discussion of two-way interactive TV? That’s exactly what this great episode with Movl CTO and cofounder Alan Queen dives into.
Alan should know – he’s inventing it before our eyes.
Listen to the audio version now: [audio: http://blip.tv/file/get/Untether-Movl665.mp3]
Rob: Before we being, two messages.
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Hello everybody and welcome. This is UNTETHER.tv and I’m your host and founder Rob Woodbridge. This is that place you come to as often as you can, and many of you come very often and I appreciate it, to hear about some of the latest technologies in the mobile space. The things and the entrepreneurs that are building as this industry is evolving. These are the path beaters, the innovators and this is why it’s so cool to do this. You get exposed to great companies and great technologies. Like, we’re going to talk about today.
You know, it’s long been called the idiot box. Something that sits in front of you, sometimes it’s six feet away, sometimes it’s closer, but it just makes you, I think the reason they call it the idiot box is it makes you look like an idiot. I often spend time in there with my mouth wide open, just staring at a screen that flickers. The idiot box, but now because of mobile and because of these interactive IP-based televisions.
A number of announcements have come out over the last couple of months about big manufacturers getting into the space and maybe even Apple, but because of the combination of these smart devices that we carry with us. iPhones and iPads and the like and these digitally enhanced, IP-based televisions, they’re becoming a little bit smarter. They’re not your dad’s idiot box.
One of the companies that is kind of pioneering this space is a company called MOVL, based out of Atlanta and with me today is Alan Queen the CTO of this company and I am really excited about doing this because this is a frontier. I’ve often said that the distance between you and the television set is only six feet, but it’s a huge deep well that is that six feet. We’ve got to figure out how to broach that distance, and these guys are doing it. So Alan, I really appreciate you coming on and telling your story. Thanks for doing this.
Alan: No, thank you Rob. I’m glad to be here.
Rob: Well, television is a part of everyone’s life. Anyone who is in the developed world sits down and watches, what is it 37 hours of television a day.
Rob: Just around there. Certainly what has happened over this last little while is these mobile devices and the Internet have encroached on televisions viewing time. That one-on-one time I spend with my TV has been reduced. So I’m really excited to talk about how you guys are bringing back that interactive level back to the television set. Well not back, bringing interactivity to the TV for the first time. So why don’t we get a good overview of what MOVL is and let’s move forward.
Alan: Sure well MOVL is an early stage startup based out of Atlanta and we’re focused on developing applications and products around Smart TV’s, but we are doing all of them in a way that can be controlled via mobile devices.
Alan: All of our applications have the input from mobile devices or tablets. That’s where we see if Smart TV’s are going to be successful we think that the smartphones and tablets are going to play a big role in that to make that successful.
Rob: So there’s been lot’s of stuff. I’ve grown up and I’m in my early 40’s so I remember when the first console games came out and I think it was in television and a bunch of these other games at the time that have led into where we are today with console gaming.
Rob: But there’s been a lot of attempts to make these TV’s, to jam functionality into these TV’s, where it’s not natural, a natural fit.
Rob: Yahoo had their TV widgets and Google and certainly Apple have tried to add enhancements to these televisions. Why hasn’t that stuff worked?
Alan: Well, you know, all the attempts in the past have been about just trying to slap a web browsing experience onto the TV or some other type of things. I think what really happened was obviously broadband got faster and things like that, but honestly the mental shift that I think Apple pioneered with the App Store really made it approachable by people to say that I want a little small piece of functionality that’s just one click away. I can package up all this functionality that I do this one task and I put it into an app icon and I can have easy access to it.
I think that has a lot of weight to the way to the Smart TV is going as well. So now we have applications on our TV that do specific things. We have our Netflix application or Hulu or things like that. I think that had a lot to do with the approach and the ease of use by the consumer.
Rob: So not kind of jam things in there that don’t make sense, but is there a natural industry that works best? Gateway, I hate to use it . . .
Rob: but it is like a gateway drug into this?
Alan: Sure. That’s right. Yeah, Netflix. Things like Netflix are the gateway drug. Every platform has that gateway drug, if you will and I think for Smart TV’s it’s Netflix. First thing you’re going to do with a Smart TV is you’re probably going to be watching movies online o you’re going to be watching TV content and then from there we can expand out in all kinds of different experiences beyond that.
Rob: So you know what, a lot of times, especially when it came to the mobile devices, that gateway was games. That first piece of interactivity that really was a natural evolution. I’ve got this thing in my hand; I’ve got to kill a couple of minutes; games was it.
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: So beyond Netflix and beyond the things that we are always very comfortable with which Netflix is perfect for this because what do you do with a television set? You don’t want to break out of habit. That’s what it’s there for. The early smartphones are the same thing that this is a phone and you can’t just take a phone and jam it with a bunch of games in there and make it feel natural and then the iPhone came out and they made it natural.
Alan: And then they did it. Yeah, I think it also has to do with the function of the TV, I think, is changing in way that makes this possible, too. When I turn on my television, I go through a mental exercise. I’m going to watch cable TV or I’m going to play a game or maybe I’m going to watch a DVD or several other things, but if you think about it, to me, those are all just applications. So I see cable TV as an application.
Alan: It’s very profitable and it has a lot of content, but it is one aspect of what I might do with my television. So I’m going to watch TV, I’m going to play a game, I’m going to watch movies, there’s lots of different things and I think the Smart TV is making that more approachable so you can actually approach it from that option, those types of options.
Rob: So I got to ask, why hasn’t this taken off yet or why is it just now coming to the forefront? Over the last year, we’ve seen more about IP-based televisions. Google’s gotten in with their Google TV. Apple’s getting in with their Apple TV. Rumors of Apple creating a big screen.
Rob: Why has it taken so long to take off?
Alan: Well I think it’s several different things. One is the fact that TV manufacturers are now getting into this Internet connected TV. TV manufacturers aren’t necessarily the best at software, right? They’re best at making hardware. So each of these manufacturers have their own apps platform and SDK for developers that they’re now trying to create software. Then you have people like Google, who’s really good at software, getting into the TV market. So it’s this interesting clash and the second part of that is the fact that you have cable. Everyone who watches has a cable box connected to their TV.
Alan: So what happens is that the cable box knows exactly what you’re watching. They are content aware, right? The Smart TV gives you all this other functionality but it has no idea what you’re watching. It doesn’t know about the content. So there’s a big clash happening there. Which remote am I using? To use my Smart TV I have to use my TV remote, but nobody uses their TV remote. They use their cable remote.
Alan: There’s this big disconnect between both worlds. You have all this power with Smart TV, but it doesn’t really interact with what’s on the television through the cable box. You have all this power in the cable box, but it doesn’t really give you all the functionality of applications. Those two worlds need to solve that and combine the two to make it easier for all of this to take off. I think.
Rob: Is that end point in a smart device, like a smartphone or an iPad or a tablet? Do you think that’s the interim or is that going to be the go-to device for this kind of interactivity, rich interactive experience?
Alan: I think whether it’s an actual iPhone or Android device or whether it’s a special remote that’s designed by the TV manufacturer or someone else. As long as it is something that I can actually browse content and enter text, things like that, it’s not going to take off until that happens. I mean try to enter text on your standard TV remote, right? So we’ve got to make it easier, we’ve got to make it more approachable. All the ways to connect these devices has to be instantaneous. I need to be able to fiddle with it in the dark. I mean there’s all kinds of things that need to happen for this to really take off, but I think once those two issues are solve I think it will really start to happen.
Rob: I kind of look back over the last couple of years. I’ve always had a PC attached to my TV. That’s been my IP-based TV, but then what I require is a keyboard and a mouse and an HDMI cable in and a little bit of smarts to be able to do that.
Rob: I see that’s from an engineering standpoint. I’ve engineered this product. It’s not a consumer-friendly product.
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: I think you’ve got to tide that. That tide has to come in a little bit more before it becomes a consumer-friendly piece. Netflix was the first real app that did that. I look at Google did with their Google TV which was basically take a computer and a new operating system . . .
Rob: . . . and this massive remote that had 1,000 buttons on it as a termination point. That wasn’t user friendly.
Rob: That wasn’t that piece.
Alan: But the experience, though, on Google TV I really like. Google has taken that step in saying, “Okay, we’re going to provide you all this functionality but we’re also going to be very content aware.” Which I really like because not only do you have access to the applications, but when you do a search on Google TV it searches across the Internet, what’s on TV now, what’s on TV later, what’s on the DVR, and it really is content aware, which I think is a good step. Now as far as the input devices goes, yes you’re absolutely right. Sitting in your bed with a keyboard . . .
Rob: Doesn’t cut it.
Alan: Yeah. You know, what’s interesting is all the TV manufacturers and even Google TV has mobile device remote controls that you can download with iOS or Android, but right now what they do is they literally just emulate a traditional remote. I mean it has the up, down, left, right, enter, numbers and all that kind of stuff. That’s nice and that works, but I think for it to really be successful it just needs to be an integrated experience. If I’m searching, if I’m browsing through content I do it on my phone, I select it, it plays on my TV. I don’t want to get on a tangent there. But that’s another [point].
Rob: But it’s true. Apple figured that out, like I’m watching a video on my iPhone or my iPad and I just flip it through Apple TV to the screen, right?
Rob: Simple pieces like that. UI like that. I mean my kids now walk up to the television set (I’ve said this many times) and swipe the TV left and right to change channels.
Alan: Right. Right.
Rob: It doesn’t work. It gets fingerprints all over my television, but this is a natural UI extension to what we’ve grown accustomed to.
Alan: I’m surprised nobody’s actually tried to do that. Create a TV that is touch capable. I know that is very expensive and nobody really is going to walk up to the TV, in the end game, and use it like that. I don’t think. I don’t know, but my kid does the same thing.
Alan: Touches the TV. Tries to interact with it and it just doesn’t work.
Rob: No, it doesn’t and it’s hard to explain why one is touch and the other one is not when the interface is all natural. But why is this industry so important? There’s got to be a big number at the end of this.
Rob: Why, why, why. Why is TV so important?
Alan: Well, one of the things is that, how many TV’s do you have in your home right now?
Rob: Yeah. Everything’s a TV for me right now, yeah. One on each floor at least and then one I carry with me all the time.
Alan: Exactly. Exactly. So first of all they’re everywhere and second of all is that they’re social. A mobile device is your personal view into the world, but your TV really is more about community and it’s more social. Multiple people watching it in the same room. I think the fact that they are everywhere and the fact that they are social. I think it has a lot of legs to that and that’s actually what we’re trying to do is make the TV social again.
So if you have four people sitting on the couch that they can actually do something together. They’re already sitting there watching TV and they’re typing on their phone and talking on Facebook and doing everything else. So we’re trying to say hey why not use what’s already happening in the living room and create and experience where everyone can actually pretend to actually enjoy each others company again.
Rob: Yeah. No kidding. That’s right at least use your devices in a social way so that you’re not just four people individually doing something. You’re contributing something. There’s some great example on your website that walk you through some of these applications that you’ve built. I guess demonstration apps to be able to showcase this.
Alan: Another side of this, too, that we talk about a lot is that TV’s are not just in the home, but they’re also in public spaces.
Alan: We always talk about bars and restaurants and things like that. So imagine all those TV’s, becoming connected to the Internet and people walk into the bars and they use their phone to connect to it and play games an interact and they can take that same experience back to their home in the living room and do the same thing. So that’s another area that we’re pretty interested in as well.
Rob: How far away from this are we? They’ve talked about interactive television for quite a long time. I remember having this conversation. I was 12 years old, I was having a conversation with my father saying this, “You know dad there’s going to be a point in time where I can watch any movie I want on demand, whenever I want” and this is in 1982 and he looked at me and said, “Never Rob, that will never happen” and low and behold 20 years later I can do that now.
Rob: Maybe 30 years later, but how soon does this happen? How soon does this really emerge as a viable, viable, vibrant market?
Alan: Well, it’s actually kind of happening and people don’t even realize it I think. It’s really hard to go out and buy a brand new TV set today that doesn’t have internet connected applications on them. Now whether the people know that, that’s a completely different story. I mean my mother bought a TV and had no idea it could even connect her to the Internet. So all the TV manufacturers are starting to put these in there. So that’s one part. Then of course making it completely dead, drop easy, simple, you know.
Rob: Yeah it’s got the litmus test, right? I mean an iPhone is a great piece, because I know that my 72 year old father can pick it up and use it. He might not be able to see it, right?
Alan: Right, right.
Rob: But at least he knows the intuitive screens, just like my five year old kid can use them in a second and that’s where you’ve really got to hit this with a television that it is that simple. I don’t care if it’s on AV or HD or blah, blah, blah, I just need to be able to engage with it in a way, right?
Alan: That’s right. That’s right. My view is that you pick up your smartphone or smart device, whatever it is, and you just start browsing through TV shows by images and searching and browsing categories and then you select it and it plays and someone else is doing the same thing. Easily switching between playing my Xbox versus playing Netflix without all the fuss and muss of HDMI inputs and all that kind of stuff needs to be solved. So there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be solved on the hardware side and inter-operability between all these devices, as well, for it to really take of.
Rob: Now do you think that the hardware manufacturers. It’s always a question, right. Is it they know one thing, right?
Rob: And what they’ve focused on the last number of years is screen size and resolution per square inch and all that kind of stuff. But do you think they have the capacity? The manufacturers today have the capacity to stop thinking like they are right now and start to think about that UI layer that really has to happen because I still have to hit a button to put it onto my computer, a button to put it on my game console, a button to put on my Blu- Ray player and a button to hit cable. When does it get intuitive?
Alan: Well I hate to say this, but I think it’s when Apple gets into the game.
Rob: Yeah, they change it.
Alan: Honestly, I mean they don’t do that because they don’t have to. When you buy a cable subscription, you’re limited to whoever is in your area, right?
Alan: You don’t really have a lot of choices. So whatever they give you is what they give you and if it’s a bad interface, it’s a bad interface, you know? People may complain about having to scroll through thousands of channels, but they do it, right?
Alan: So as long as people are paying for it and it’s a very low cost to put that out there, then they’re not going to do that. As soon as somebody comes in here and actually puts on a beautiful interface that’s really easy to use. Not just cool for coolness sake, but actually is really, really simple and easy to use. Suddenly people start using that and that’s going to force everyone else to catch up and we’ve seen that happen time and time again.
Rob: Well yeah I’m holding one of those things up right here. This forced people to rethink what a phone was and a computer was, right?
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: So you do think that it’s when Apple or equivalent walks into that space?
Alan: Yeah, I think it’s when somebody comes up with an elegant way to make it truly simple and easy for people to use it from different devices or from the remote itself. Somebody’s going to come up with that and most likely it will be somebody like an Apple.
Rob: Like somebody outside the TV industry?
Alan: Yeah, I think so.
Rob: That is looking at it through new eyes.
Alan: It needs that, yeah I think it needs that. I think it needs people from different areas to come in and completely rethink that whole interface and the way you interact with the TV. To me, it’s also the fact that they try to cram so much in these TV’s, but really at the end of the day a TV is just a monitor.
Rob: Right. Stupid.
Alan: It’s a big monitor and it has lots of interesting inputs from different things. I always wished that my TV could literally have one HDMI input on it and that’s it.
Alan: Because that’s all I really use it for. I bring all my content from external areas.
Rob: It’s true. I want my TV to be a little bit more intuitive so that it knows that I want to play a game because I’ve launched this app or it knows that I want to watch a movie because in proximity I’ve launched this app.
Rob: And it knows when I want to actually use it as a work monitor because I’ve launched this. I’d love to see this.
Alan: We’re starting to get there. Some of the TV’s are starting to do that. Especially when you turn on your Blu-Ray player and suddenly it just switches the input because it detected that signal. So, there’s a lot of things in the HDMI spec that are really helping that, being able to control external devices and things like that. So, that’s really great. I think they should continue on with that path.
Rob: I can’t wait. From my perspective, it’s about, listen, it’s seamless technology. My kids can use it. I can use it. I don’t have to get that support call when I’m traveling from my wife saying, hey, I can’t launch a movie. But, also I get rid of the wires and things that are underneath the TV. Let’s just carry everything with us in the Cloud.
Alan: Most definitely.
Rob: So, who wins in this? Who loses in this industry? When you start to put all the smarts on this and a little bit less reliance on, say, the gaming consoles, when the most popular game in the history of mankind is a game called Angry Birds, there’s a shift happening here, and when movies are being stored in the Cloud and downloaded and everybody’s getting into that game, who wins and loses? Who wins when we bring the power to the device, and the TV just becomes a screen, a projector?
Alan: Well, the obvious answer is the consumer. They have all the choices. There’s always going to be a gap between the really hard core gamers and the social casual gamers, and there’s room for all of them, but I think to make it as easy as possible the consumer wins. Now, the TV manufacturers may lose a little bit because they’re becoming more just a monitor, like I said, at that point. Maybe, the mobile devices win a little more because there’s going to be lots of interactivity between the TV and a lot of it happening in your hand rather than clicking through a menu on a remote. At the end of the day, yes, it’s the consumer, for sure.
Rob: I just wrote this down because it’s very interesting to me. There’s a battle right now, this smartphone battle going on between all these manufacturers and all these operating systems. How is that going to play out? Do you think that there are relationships that are going to be formed between Samsung and Apple? Are they going to be battle lines drawn here, and is it going to be a number of years before I can actually use my Android device or my iPhone on the same TV?
Alan: I think it’s not going to be that long, but what’s happening though since every TV manufacturers is trying to stake their claim in the space, they’ve all got their ways of doing things, their SDKs. A lot of the technology used to develop these apps feel very foreign to a developer that’s used to doing web-based development or mobile development and things like that. But there has been a little bit.
I know that there’s a consortium between, I think, LG and Phillips and a couple of others that are trying to standardize on ways to develop Smart TV apps that can run . . . you build it once and it’ll run on multiple platforms. So, that’s going to have to happen, too. Obviously, there’s still a big divide between things like iOS and Android, but with the advent of HTML5 and people trying to standardize on WebKit, that same concept has to happen on the Smart TV. It is very difficult to create an app that you want to put on a Samsung and a LG and a Panasonic and a [dual] TV.
Rob: Can you imagine the layers now all of a sudden? IOS and Android and multiple versions of Android. You’ve got Blackberry and Nokia and Symbian, and then you’ve got Windows Phone. So, those are just base operating systems. Now, you’ve got to start to think about, okay, do I want it to run on a LG TV or this kind of TV?
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: From the developer’s standpoint, forget it. I’m just going to go back to pen and paper.
Alan: Well, that’s the world we’re living in. We’ve got our apps running on Google TV and Samsung TV. We’ve got iOS apps and Android apps that all work together. You can play somebody on Samsung TV. You can play somebody on Google TV. You can use Android, even on computer as well.
It’s a struggle, for sure. We’re trying to figure that out as well.
Rob: It makes me long for the web days where I was like, Netscape or IE, hmm.
Alan: That’s it.
Rob: And that was difficult, but this was much easier. So, game consoles. Do you think there’s going to be an impact with that for casual gamers when it comes to being able to play games like this? Do they win or lose in this? Is it up or down for those guys?
Alan: No, I do. I think that the casual game market is perfect for the Smart TV. It doesn’t require all the power of a full immersive 3D interface to get a really fun experience out of it. Angry Birds is a great example. Even simpler games that have been wild and successful can be easily translated to the TV.
Now, you’re not going to get full 3D Halo and things like that on your Smart TV yet, but they’re all scrambling to get together and try to come up with low cost solutions to add hardware accelerated 3D content. So, I think, it will just keep pushing the Xboxes and the Playstations to get it further down the hardcore path. And I think a lot of the casual stuff will start to move towards the Smart TV.
Rob: Yeah, it’s like the innovators dilemma, which is that lower piece which is the casual game starts to be picked up by mobile game companies that are building to these platforms. And then, you’re going to start to see that encroaching on our television sets. And the big consoles are going to say, “Okay. We’re just going to move up market anyways.” Because, I mean those devices now, an Xbox is a powerful PC ultimately.
Alan: And it’s actually a great Smart TV device, I believe. I mean, with the Xbox you have your games, you have movies, you have casual games, you can download games. I mean, there is something really there. I know that a couple of cable manufacturers are putting their entire cable box inside the Xbox, right? I think that . . .
Rob: Throw in Kinect. Yeah, throw in Microsoft Kinect in there.
Rob: And you got the complete interactive immersive environment, right?
Alan: That’s right. That’s right.
Rob: Not only for gaming. But for, you know, choosing what you want to watch. And no remote control.
Alan: Absolutely, absolutely.
Rob: And you don’t get finger marks on your screens, right?
Alan: Still have the problem of entering text. That could be done with voice. I assume.
Rob: Yeah. Well, that’s what’s interesting about Siri and the 4S launch. So how far does that go? Is this a communicator through Siri to the TV? When you start to think about what the possibilities are maybe it’s a little bit too far down the road. But you know, I always look at companies and say, “Listen,” instead of an evolutionary step in television, which is what, you know, Netflix is. Fine. Which is, basically, you’re not getting your TV from your cable provider. You’re getting it from a cloud provider.
But start to think outside of the box. What the future looks for this thing, which is the screen that we’ve all looked at now for 60 years, right? And are we at the end of the line of that? And then are we beginning to see some classic, real innovation coming in the television industry for the first time since TV was invented. Or since the flat screens came, I supposed. What’s out there for us? How do you see the future unfolding into space?
Alan: Yeah, I mean, I think, we go back to the point of the TV itself being looked at more as the monitor, first of all, for all types of input. I see it that things like Netflix and then cable TV existing on exactly the same plane, right? I mean, if in the day people still just want to watch TV, so we’re still going to be doing that, right? No matter what. But the fact that we’ll now be, not only more immersive by controlling our mobile devices, but it’s going to be social. I think that you have multiple people doing things together. Right now, you have one remote control. We share it between the family. Now . . .
Rob: You don’t share it.
Alan: . . . we can do something together. Yeah, exactly. We don’t share it.
Rob: You don’t share. C’mon.
Rob: So, when you say social, give us some examples of the way you think that’s going to play up, or is playing it today.
Alan: Well, I mean, we’re trying to push this concept through some of our applications. I mean, they’re very simple ideas right now. But the idea is that you sit down like one of our games called We Draw, which is a Pictionary-style game, right? And you sit down with your family. You have up to six people all sitting on the couch and all playing together and everyone actually has different views on their devices. So when we call it a multi- screen application, it’s really more of a multi-view.
It’s not just a companion. It actually has different views on different screens depending what’s happening in the application. And I think that’s where it ought to be. I think that a lot of apps will have a lot of benefit from that, from being able to have something on the screen that’s really common area but everyone gets a different view. Depending on what they’re doing whether it’s playing a game or is searching for content. Things like that.
Rob: So this is happening now and is it when you go to a market with something like this, I mean, obviously receptive from the TV manufacturers who are building this IP-based devices. But do you show this at a conference or when you’re showing this to, you know, a potential customer, what’s their reaction when they see things like these?
Alan: Whenever we show this, we just see the light bulbs, you know? It kind of, like, “Wow, I never thought about it that way,” and it’s really great. I’m actually more on the consumer side, too. We get people playing this. We just watch their faces. They just absolutely love doing these together. It’s so much fun, you know? Because the users are actually saying, “I’m taking this device that’s mine,” you know? I own it, you know? And now I’m communicating with everyone around me. We’re playing together and I can come and go, and things like that.
So, from both the consumer side as well as, potential business partners and things, we always see sort of a light bulb go off. It’s, like, “Wow, I could do this with my content.” So it’s been pretty exciting.
Rob: So there is an obvious question at the end of all of these is that, as you’re kind of building towards this and you’ve convinced somebody to implement this technology, there’s a developer component that’s very important obviously and making sure that people understand that there’s a way to make money doing this, right?
We’ve seen a lot of turmoil in the four years since the iPhone came out and app stores were invented. Ultimately, around first, it was a for-pay app, and now they’re free apps with app purchases. Nobody is making millions of dollars now at $0.99 a pop, so how does this turn into an ecosystem that generates revenue for the developers?
Alan: Well, all of the Smart TV manufacturers have a platform that allow you to buy apps and download them, but we know that probably they’ll all become free at some point, just like the mobile app side of things. But one thing that’s worked really well in television has been advertising, right? So, we’ve come to expect that. We may not like it, but we expect it, and honestly we get a lot of our information that way.
Now, on mobile it’s usually a little tiny banner that you can actually click on or something like that or online or things like that. They’re kind of annoying, but on TV you kind of expect it plus you have the benefit of the full screen, 30 second ad. The way we see it and something we’re trying to do is multi-screen synchronized advertisement so that if you have really nice video on the TV and you synchronize it at the same time, you get the call to action information on the mobile device, and you can do some interesting things there.
Not only can you just have a simple click to get more info, but maybe it becomes a full game that you can play, something you can actually interact with. We think there’s an interesting twist. We haven’t driven that yet, but we think there’s something to that. A lot of the Smart TV manufacturers are starting to come out with their own ad platforms as well to make that happen.
Now, another part of that is that if you’re using the mobile device and you control the TV app, don’t forget that the mobile device is also a credit card. It also has in-app purchasing and other types of things that can go along with it as well. So, you could be working with a television app and ask you to pay for a new level and a game or something like that and you actually do the payment on the mobile device.
Alan: That’s one of the reasons that I really think that if this is going to happen, it’s going to need that mobile device and be part of that ecosphere.
Rob: Do you think that and this may be beyond our discussion here, but there’s an ecosystem at play here because the carriers – I call them carriers because I’m up in Canada and Rogers is a carrier as well as a cable provider but they own me. The TV doesn’t own me.
So Rogers is, if you want to watch that baseball game, it’s $349 a year and you get MLB packages or the football channels, or HD or the hockey. Do you think they’re going to open this up and say, now listen, now it’s the TV manufacturers that are getting into this game. They’ve got an OS, an app store.
Pretty soon, Hulu or Netflix, there’s going to be all these things everywhere. It’s going to start to eat and it is eating revenue, regardless of what people are talking about with Netflix and this fumble that they’ve done. And they still have 23 million subscribers and growing. How do you think those guys, the cable providers, are going to react to this?
Alan: Well, we’re seeing a lot of different and interesting ways that they’re trying to combat this. One is like TV everywhere, in that initiative where you can actually watch over the top content. That forces you to still have your cable subscription. And then, we’ve seen some other ones where they are starting to get into offering applications themselves. So, they’re actually offering them and trying to get some money out of that side of things, too.
There’s going to be interesting things to happen out of there, but they’re not hurting at all right now. But, as we know, there’s more and more people starting to cut the cord, right? So, they’re going to have to figure out other ways. I personally believe that the cable manufacturers have at their disposal the best pipe for bandwidth in the world. I think they should really take a look at using that for bringing what they call now over the top content through that pipe. That’s one problem, too.
You stream your Netflix over your Internet, and you may get some buffering issues in there, but usually when you do a pay-per- view movie through the cable system, there’s usually no problems, and that’s one of the things. They have a great connection there that they should take advantage of and let that be a little more open.
I don’t know. So, there’s lots of different ways to look at that. I think that they own the user, like you said, right now. I think initially we might see things like aggregating content, like the cable provider, like more over the top and where I’m paying one price. I personally would love to just pay for what I watch, but I don’t know about that.
Rob: That’s never going to happen.
Alan: I don’t know about that. So, yeah, they’re definitely trying a few things. I know that Comcast, maybe, it’s U-Verse that’s trying to do things with a much sleeker UI, offer applications directly on the cable box rather than doing it on the Smart TV.
Rob: Yeah. I think that this is that next battle. This is the living room dashboard that we’re talking about because it is the focal point of most North American living rooms is television sets.
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: In Canada, Rogers is the cable provider, pretty much the dominant cable provider across Canada, has now also a carrier, so, we get all our cell phones and they bundle it all together, but they’ve also just applied to be a chartered bank. So when you start to think about alternative sources of revenue they don’t care if you’re, they do, but cable’s a big business for them. But if they’re going to lose revenue on the cable side because of core cutting, then anything that you buy through your phone is now going to be levied or transaction against them.
I think that they’re hedging. They look at this and say, “That dumb box. We’ve been feeding it for a long time, but at some point it’s going to get too smart for us and there’s going to be ways to circumvent that, so we’ve got to be in other business that play in that space.”
Alan: That’s smart. I think that’s smart.
Rob: The idea is that this is going to become an ecosystem over the couple of years, so developers will get into this like they did in the mobile space and build applications. You guys enable that, right?
Alan: Sure. Yeah, our platform essentially is built so that anyone can create the type of experiences that we create for multi-screen applications across Smart TVs and mobile devices. That’s part of our strategy, and the other part is products up on top of that, of course, original titles and things like that, so . . .
Rob: Yeah. You guys have only been around a year, just around a year.
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: It’s not only. Congratulations on surviving a year which is a . . .
Alan: Thank you very much.
Rob: . . . threshold, especially in this space.
Alan: It is [hard].
Rob: Yeah. You guys are out raising money right now?
Alan: Yeah. Our whole plan was just to put out our platform and our technology, kind of improve that experience, have a few example applications and since those have been so successful, and then we officially launched the platform about a month and a half ago. We thought this is the time, this is the time to go out and say, let’s raise some money, and let’s take it to the next level. We think there’s a lot of players here both in the terms of the cable providers, the TV manufacturers, there’s game publishers, there’s public spaces, public venues, things like that, so it’s easy to see this . . .
Rob: And advertising for that.
Alan: . . . advertising all the way around. There is something there. We think it’s now is a time to take it to the next level, so that we can actually ride with the increase and popularity of Smart TVs over the next year.
Rob: What was it about the space that kind of attracted you into this? Was it just a natural thing? I see that there’s audio and video in your background, but was just you looked at it and said, “What’s next, like, so this mobile thing now is coming into the battle for the TV?”
Alan: Yeah. Absolutely. When we started the company my co-founder and I, we actually had worked for other companies and built those and sold those. We were kind of both at a point where we were ready to do something new. It was really a great opportunity to sit back and say, “Okay, let’s see what’s coming up in two years. Let’s look at what’s happening two years from now.”
We looked at the Smart TV side of things and we immediately saw the need for both Smart TVs and mobile. We think in 2013, 2014 that it’ll be commonplace. It’s time now to jump in. It was really exciting because obviously it’s just really cool. It’s a lot of fun too.
Rob: Of course it is.
Alan: At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, right?
Rob: You’re changing the living room. You’re changing the way that the living room operates. The American living room will be forever changed. What about protecting . . . about the investment side I want to come back to that for a second.
Rob: With this enthusiasm that you have, I think it’s an obvious assumption that something is going to happen in the TV space when it comes to interactivity whether it’s a catalyst company like Apple that comes in and shows people how to do it or . . .
Rob: . . . the manufacturers get it right. What has been the response from the investment community? Is this a hard sale or a soft sale?
Alan: No. It’s definitely a hard sale. I mean the thing is this is a brand new space and no one has proven that it can actually . . .
Alan: . . . make any money yet, right? So it’s a space that we all know that all of the projections say that it’s going to be making money over the next two years and things are going to happen, so what you’re doing is trying to sale on the idea that, let’s be in the right position and at the right time and offer the best technology so that when it does happen we’re ready to go. But, I mean, you’re not going to have 20 other companies that are making billions of dollars off of Smart TV apps. You can’t find them right now, right? So, yes, it has definitely been a hard sell to investors for that reason.
I think every time we talk to somebody they all agree that this is something that’s going to happen and somebody’s going to be a player in this. It’s just rather or not they want to put money into something that has a ramp up period into it.
Rob: Yeah, you’re building the industry which is always tough to be one of the first in like this because it’s a proving ground at the same time is that it’s a patience play as well, right?
Rob: It’s not going to happen a year from now. I’ve seen some stupid investments, right, like $50 million . . .
Alan: Oh, yeah.
Rob: . . . into software apps, like Flip Board or even [Roveo]. I don’t get it, how are they going to spend $50 million in this, but in some of the non-business type of companies getting a lot of money and it’s just basically a feature of somebody else’s application. I always wonder, out there in the investment community, what they’re thinking about when they put $2 million into this crappy little app and what they’re staring at is quite literally the future of this industry and a game changer where they’re supposed to be putting they’re money into.
Alan: It’s all about hedging the bets with the overnight sensation, right? So with [Roveo] and Angry Birds there’s a million other apps that are out there like that and before them, right, but they were cute, people got on to it and then it took off like wild. When that whole $50 million investment inside of things, going into movies, merchandising all these other kinds of things. That’s a quick hit, I believe.
Rob: Expensive hit because there hasn’t been another Angry Birds. Name another company, name another application like that. It’s a corner case, right?
Alan: Yep. That’s right and everybody wants to hopefully find that next one. I think in the investment community they’re always looking for that type of thing. They’re looking for a huge amount of scale for consumers, like a Facebook style or Twitter style, and then there’s plenty of them who do invest in technology knowing that it’s going to take awhile to ramp up. That’s kind of where we’re looking at that as well.
I think for Smart TV to take off it’s going to need an Angry Birds, it’s going to need that one big hit, right? So it’s going to be both from the technology side and making it easy and making it approachable but it’s also going to need that run-a- way hit that makes it really take off.
Rob: Shines a light on it, right?
Alan: That’s right.
Rob: What about protecting this? This is going to be a contested area. This is going to be a big challenge as you go through this but you also have to be looking at this saying, well, we got to wrap something around this, our own IP around this so we can be protected for a little while anyways as we go out there. Do you guys consider that as you go through this?
Alan: Yeah. We’ve filed for a patent, so we’re patent pending right now on our platform. We definitely want to try to protect that as much as possible at the same time trying to be as open as possible where we can too. It’s a tricky slope.
Rob: You do that, you go out and you apply for a patent so that you can control. It’s in your hands what you open and what you don’t, right?
Rob: Ultimately, (I always say this) you go out and build a patent portfolio but if you can’t defend the patent portfolio, why do it, right?
Alan: Right. Sometimes [it’s the case] do you really want to? Do you really want to spend that time and effort and piss people off and things like that. It’s really more about once we knew we were on to something, it was a natural thing to do. It may not be granted down the future, but the idea is if you get the patent pending you’re protected for a short amount of time at least while you’re building the future vision.
Rob: Do you ever worry, because it’s patent pending, it’s open now. It’s exposed ultimately, if you don’t get the patent, isn’t it open to your competitors now?
Alan: Absolutely. Our platform may not be the one that wins at the end of the day. We’re really into for the long run, so we’re willing to pivot in every way. There’s lots of people doing bits and pieces of this. That you could call competitors of ours as well. People recognize this and are going after it. It’s up to, for a small company like us, it was the right thing to do to create the platform and try to patent it, but we’re also very open to pivoting where necessary.
Rob: It’s the best part about being small and nimble as long as you can keep that mentality. Well, that didn’t work, so on to the next thing. So when Apple releases their TV, it’s like now how do we embrace that.
Alan: Absolutely. The thing is, at the end of the day our vision is this connected living room with connecting people through mobile devices. However, we get there is how we get there. We’re hoping that our platform will be used by a lot of people, but if it’s not, then we’re happy to embrace others and continue on as well to come up with new ideas and products. At the end of the day, when we release our product to consumers it really doesn’t matter what the technology is behind it as long as obviously we want to be owning as much of that as possible.
Rob: No kidding. Alan, I think we’ve covered quite a bit in this session. Is there anything that I’m missing here? Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that is so important to get out or have we hit on all the right topics here?
Alan: I think we’ve hit on the core topics. My mantra simply is, if this Smart TV market is going to take off, it’s going to have to be with mobile devices. Smart devices, smart tablets, in conjunction with them. That’s the only thing I’d like to leave that on the table for you.
Rob: I agree. We carry these things with us. They’re important to us already. Putting a remote control on it is just not great. So great a good experience on that that interacts with the television set and it’s going to open up the possibilities as you said. People’s eyes light up as soon as they start using this.
Rob: Alan, I really appreciate you coming on and sharing. This is a fascinating space because, I don’t think many people will think about this, the television in the same way going forward and I think it’s companies like yours that are the cusp. That what I hope in two or three years, MOVL is one of these companies that has evolved into a market leader in this and I know that is what you guys hope obviously.
Alan: Most definitely. Yeah. Thanks for having me on, it was great. I enjoyed it.
Rob: People can find you at MOVL, M-O-V-L.com. Is there another site you want to drive them to as well?
Alan: That’s right. Our platform is at connect.movl.com.
Alan: Then from those places you can get our applications and everything else as well.
Rob: Okay. M-O-V-L.com, MOVL not Muvl and it’s connect.movl.com for the platform itself. There’s great examples, there’s demos of playing the games they’ve created so go and take a look at that. It’s worthwhile. It’ll open your mind to the way that television and interactive television should be, very cool.
Alan: You can find a couple of our apps on Samsung TV’s as well as Google TV and the Google TV spotlight.
Rob: Wicked. I love it. I can’t wait to see this. I have to promise that Alan I will have you back on as you go through this process. I’d love to be able to see how this evolves over the next number of quarters and years as we go through this so as long as I’m around, we have an open spot for you to come on and let us know how things are going.
Alan: Sounds great. Love to do it.
Rob: I’ve been speaking with Alan Queen, CTO of MOVL. Go to movl.com, M-O- V-L.com or connect.movl.com for more information. Alan, thank you, thank you so much for being a part of this. Folks who are watching, listening wherever you may be, you know I appreciate it. Thank you so much for listening.
If you have any feedback, any comments about this, any questions, suggestions, if you want to reach out to Alan, reach out to me at untether.gmail.com and I will respond and put you in touch with him. Go to movl.com for more information. Thank you guys for watching. Thank you Alan for being a part of this. See you next time on UNTETHER.tv.
Alan: Thank you, Rob.
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Alan is a creative technologist, with over 15 years of experience leading teams that innovate on digital products.
Before joining MOVL, Alan founded Digimix: creators of audio applications for the web and the desktop. Digimix won big at Adobe’s AIR Derby 2007, and was later acquired by Aviary.com.
Alan started his career in the music business and was a pioneer in the creation of enhanced CDs. He later became a Media Director at IBM where he worked with teams dedicated to innovation in new media for clients such as Chrysler, Kodak, NBA, and PGA. Alan has worked at Schematic, Halcyon Worlds and Shockwave.com architecting and developing products as well as managing teams that create online multilayer games and applications.
In addition, Alan teamed up with Juan Pablo Gnecco at Studiocom from 2001 to 2005, where together they built multiplayer games and online experiences for clients like Coca-Cola, Turner, and other big named brands.
At MOVL, Alan is head of technology, and has created a proprietary technology platform that connects users on mobile devices and internet connected TVs to allow for quick deployment of multi-user and multi-device applications.