News Column

Comcast, NBCUniversal Take a Stake in British Social-TV Startup

Sept. 27, 2012

Bob Fernandez

social-TV start-up zeebox

With celebrities tweeting and viewers sharing Facebook "likes" for TV shows, Comcast Corp. and NBCUniversal will announce today that they will invest in the British social-TV start-up zeebox and help launch its app in the United States.

It's a huge boost for zeebox, as it enters the U.S. market on the nation's largest cable system.

Zeebox aggregates TV show information, Twitter feeds, and other data for smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Using the zeebox app, TV viewers can toggle their attention between a live show and its real-time social-media buzz on a "second screen."

Comcast and NBCUniversal officials said live TV is becoming an increasingly social activity that makes it more engaging for viewers.

One concern in the TV industry has been the growth of DVRs that allow viewers to record shows and watch them later, skipping through advertisements. Social TV could reengage viewers with live TV, the officials said.

An estimated 40 percent of TV viewers use a second screen -- a smartphone, tablet, or laptop -- while watching TV, Comcast officials said.

Page Thompson, executive vice president of strategic integration at NBCUniversal, said zeebox could be the "dawn of a new era" in watching TV, and "NBC is making an unprecedented commitment to this."

Information on more than 300 NBC shows will be available on zeebox, whose content will be expanded this fall with custom video clips that users can share, he said.

Zeebox could make advertising on network shows more valuable by supplementing or localizing it, Thompson said.

NBCUniversal will promote zeebox this fall on the NBC network to drive zeebox downloads. HBO also has agreed to help launch zeebox.

The terms of Comcast and NBCUniversal's investment in zeebox were not disclosed.

"We're excited to team with zeebox on their U.S. launch," said Steve Burke, chief executive officer at NBCUniversal. "As the Olympics demonstrated, the second-screen experience has become an increasingly important platform to engage audiences."

Zeebox is one of several "second-screen" apps that seek to develop loyalty or interest in TV shows. Others are Viggle and Get Glue.

Zeebox was cofounded 18 months ago by Anthony Rose, formerly of the BBC and the file-sharing service Kazaa. Zeebox is 10 percent owned by BSkyB, the largest pay-TV distributor in Britain, and has had 1.5 million downloads there.

Samuel H. Schwartz, Comcast president of converged products, said, "Today, there is a ton of social interest in television and television content."

The goal is to connect the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the TV-viewing experience, Schwartz said. Traditional TV viewing is considered linear, he said, while with zeebox, the experience can be more three-dimensional.

Source: (c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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