Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

CES: Yahoo Beats Google to Apps that Know What You're Watching

TV apps debut that pop-up automatically to offer extra content related to the show you’re watching.

  • January 10, 2011

It’s a feature that Google made a point of talking about during its launch of the Google TV platform in May last year. But Yahoo will be the first to bring to TVs apps that know what a viewer is watching and pop-up extra content to enhance the show, the firm announced at CES. One example, shown above, is an app from the Showtime network that offers extra statistics during boxing matches. In the next few months an upgrade will be added to some Yahoo Connected TV devices to trial the feature, if all goes well the more than 5 million TV devices already running the platform could be upgraded to get it too.

Credit: Yodel Anecdotal

The new feature also shows that TV networks that have been hostile to internet TV, and Google TV in particular, can appreciate broadcasting’s new direction when it suits them. ABC and NBC both chose to block Google TV users from accessing content on their websites, but HSN and Showtime have signed up with Yahoo to develop TV-aware apps.

The interactive apps know what a person is currently tuned into, or watching from their DVR, as well as the current time. That allows them to trigger a small notification at the bottom of the TV screen when relevant, informing the viewer that extra content is available if they want it.

In addition to the Showtime app, demos at CES included one for Hawaii-5-O on CBS which when opened shows information about the actors and locations onscreen. A Home Shopping Network app offers the chance to buy the item onscreen at the time using the TVs remote control, or browse others in a virtual store.

Broadcasters see the apps as a way to connect viewers with specific online content at specific times, says Russ Schafer, a senior director on Yahoo’s TV effort. The apps also include ad spaces that broadcasters can use as they please. “Apps can also be aware of content you are watching using our Amazon on Demand or Netflix apps,” he says.

Interactive apps are also available to advertisers, presenting the first glimpse of the new forms of ad revenue thought to be motivating Google’s and other efforts to combine web and TV.

In Yahoo’s CES demo, when an advert for Mattel’s Barbie doll came on an app popped up that asked viewers to take part in a poll. A Ford Lincoln car advert proffered information on local dealers, demonstrating how TV-aware apps can be targeted against a viewer’s location.

This aspect may be good news for Google TV, which is based on Android and will open up a cellphone-like app store in coming months. Now broadcasters and advertisers have a taste of things to like about their content on internet TV they may be more likely to try and use Google’s store in similar ways.

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