By Anthony Rose April 13, 2014

Official Beamly Editor

The second screen, social TV app formerly known as zeebox is now Beamly.
Why the change? What does it mean? And what’s the story on social TV in general?

Over the past months we’ve been interviewing people who love TV and who love talking about TV. It’s clear that television viewing, or at least the love for TV shows, is as healthy as ever. It’s also clear that people are still looking for that perfect companion experience, the perfect app that reminds you when your favorite show is on, that gives you 24/7 news and gossip for the drama and celebrities you’re following. An app that lets you jump into a community and chat with fans before, during and after the show. An app that gives you a no-spoilers experience when you’re watching on-demand or, increasingly, binge viewing.

We set to work making zeebox that app. I thought it worth sharing the background to our product evolution, the reason for the Beamly name change, and more general thoughts on the evolution of social TV.

But let me start with a recap of the social TV / second screen landscape:

The Journey from zeebox to Beamly

An increasing number of people watch TV with a phone or tablet in hand. Sometimes they’re chatting with friends, sometimes they’re tweeting about a show, sometimes they’re looking for information on the show, the actor, the recipe. And sometimes they’re just checking their email.

Everyone is looking for a better way to find new shows to watch, to get to the next episode of their favorite program, and a replacement for that awful grid view TV guide.

When we launched zeebox in the US 18 months ago, our app focussed on the live participation TV experience. We created tools for our broadcast partners to enhance their TV shows with votes and polls, quizzes, games and other interactive experiences. We envisaged zeebox as a TV participation app, to be used while you watch TV.

In order to find shows to watch and to play along during the show, we needed to provide TV listings. We created a TV guide that let you find programs – not just in the old channel order but also to sort by shows that are popular, buzzy or that friends were watching. We integrated with Sony, Samsung and Panasonic TVs and with Sky, Virgin TiVo and Comcast Xfinity set top boxes so that zeebox would act as a next-gen wi-fi remote control for your connected TV or set top box. Spot a friend watching Blacklist? Just click on them to have your TV jump to that channel to join them and other fans watching and chatting about Blacklist.

Utility vs. Social Network

All was good… except that the combination of a live TV experience and all that nice (but essentially utility) TV guide functionality was embraced by a predominantly male audience and a perception of zeebox as a social TV guide rather than the social network and TV participation experience that was our vision.

Plus, as more people switched from live TV to on-demand viewing and as we learned that the conversation often takes place before and after rather than during the show, the combination of TV guide plus live tweet stream was at odds with drama and other genres where the conversation takes place before & after rather than during the show. And with on-demand viewing you might want to chat with others watching the show now rather than see tweets made by people who watched the show two days ago.

We knew all that from Day 1, but you have to start somewhere. The live TV experience was where we started. It was time to move to the next phase.

We’re converts to the Lean Start-up approach to product development. Our product development is driven by real users, who watch TV, who head into our office twice a week to road test every new idea in prototype form. Based on their feedback we set to work building the next phase of zeebox, a content and social network for TV. Which brings us to Beamly, a true social network for TV, a destination to keep returning to throughout the day for your news, gossip, friends, and more.

We’ve turned zeebox into an app that was useful in front of your TV into a destination that provides value even if you’re never in front of a TV. zeebox was all about TV, Beamly is all about the show.

What’s different about Beamly?

Even if you never watch TV you almost certainly watch Homeland, The Voice, Breaking Bad or Blacklist.

Instead of a just a TV guide and place to chat during the show, Beamly is a destination to:

  • get 24/7 news, spoilers (or not) and gossip for shows you love & celebrities you follow,
  • find, chat and hang out with other fans of your favorite drama, comedy or reality TV,
  • chat and share in TV Rooms hosted by TV influencers, celebrities and passionate fans

Beamly throughout the day

Delivering a 24/7 content experience – following shows and TV stars, getting a personalised feed of news, reminders and stories on them – has had a big effect on return visits and time in app:

Following shows

But that’s nothing compared to the huge 9X increase in time spent in app and visits per week from the social network effect – following other people, they following you, getting pinged as they reply to your posts, opening the app to find posts from your friends, jumping into a chat session with them:

Following people

You can still discover what to watch with our personalized TV guide and interact live with your favorite shows with our playalong games, quizzes and more – we’re not taking anything away, but the focus has changed.

A new audience

Our product changes have resonated most significantly with a particular audience segment – female social watchers.

Turning zeebox into a social network has led to a huge take-off in people using the app as a community, a place to find friends and fans. That could be at lunch time, at work, whenever. Often nowhere near a TV.

In the US, our audience is now 62% female, a similar audience demographic to Pinterest. Our UK audience is still more resolutely male, a vestige of our earlier utility-focussed product launching in the UK six months before the US.

Beamly Infographic

We loved that audience change and set about embrace it. Our design team came up with a vibrant new design and color theme. The color they chose is coral, it’s perfectly in tune with our fastest-growing audience.

Lots of colours

Our UX design was showing signs of disharmony from the many features added to the app over the past 18 months and so we took the opportunity to do a complete overhaul of the interface – colors, iconography, wording, navigation.

Our developers came up with the smart idea of automatically coloring the header area based on the dominant color in the program image, giving each program a refreshingly different look and feel:

Let’s not forget the Sync Experience

All of which brings us back to the original second screen purpose, an app you have in front of you while you watch TV, bringing you interactive experiences synchronised to the show. The Sync Experience.

Right from the start, the second screen challenge was delivering a sufficiently enticing sync experience. If the ‘content’ is a TV show on which hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lavished on each hour of production, what content can a non-rights holder provide on the second screen to match that?

GetGlue provided stickers. Viggle gives rewards. Twitter provides tweets. Some broadcasters and program makers built dedicated apps for specific shows, for the most part populated with stocking-filler clips and trailers with little attempt made to provide a sync experience, but occasionally with deeply integrated program playalongs.

We took a different approach, working directly with major broadcasters including NBC, Viacom, Fox, Discovery. Sky, TEN Australia and others, providing them with publishing tools and zeebox as a platform and destination that dramatically reduces the cost and effort of creating second screen companion experiences.

That’s working well, with dozens of major TV series now having compelling second screen experiences in Beamly and, thanks to our syndication platform, also embedded in broadcaster web sites and apps. Our syndication platform allows broadcasters to author experiences with our Mission Control tools, then publish those experiences in multiple places, avoiding the vexing question of whether to build a dedicated app or publish into an umbrella app such as Beamly. Broadcasters can now have it both ways.

But technology doesn’t stand still and what was okay last year won’t necessarily cut it next year. We have to keep raising the bar, creating more immersive experiences that form part of the show itself.

For example, it’s great to be able to vote along to your favorite game show. But for a properly compelling experience you need to know your vote will affect the outcome. Today you can vote along to The Voice with Beamly, but what if the audience was the fifth chair…

the_voice_game_mobile

 

In a few years, there won’t be the concept of first screen or second screen, there’ll be Participation TV, a unified experience across all screens.

We’re working with on-screen graphics companies such as Vizrt to inject the output of the audience interaction into broadcast signal, allowing audience engagement to be fed back into the show creating a true multiscreen experience.

the_voice_onscreen

We’ve also been working to raise the bar on second screen experiences. Instead of votes, polls and simple experiences that often aren’t deeply connected with the show, can you use that audience power to turn TV into a two-way medium, where audience participation truly shapes the show?

For example, no Australian election is complete with The Worm, an audience sentiment graph prominently displayed on screen during political debates. Today the worm is powered by a small number of users in a room with special voting hardware, but in the future it will be you on your phone or tablet at home.

We ran an audience sentiment playalong for the State Of The Union address earlier this year. I asked CNBC if they could have President Obama modify his talk based on the nation’s feedback. Maybe next year…

elephants_and_mice

Our games team has been developing HTML5 games that tap into the real-time buzz for celebrities in a show to create fun social betting games:

social_betting_bubbles

All of which is to say that the journey is just starting with second screen synch experiences, it’s a space limited only by the imagination. And the arrival of the next generation of media streamers – Chromecast, Android TV, Roku, Sky’s NowTV – is going to lead to a new spurt of activity with those interactive experiences beamed back onto the TV.

Beamly, the social TV destination

As part of the relaunch we’re working with celebrities and TV influencers to create exclusive content and bring their knowledge, insight and audience to TV Rooms.

influencers

We’re also working to provide the up-and-coming YouTube stars a new social platform to engage with their fans – imagine second screen video commentary and  daily video recaps posted in TV Rooms.

If we think back to our first zeebox release, a next-gen TV guide and Twitter companion, and compare to the wonderful, lively 24/7 content-rich social network we’re turning into, that’s quite a change.

So whatever you’ve read or thought about social TV and second screen… things change. We’d like to think this is the beginning of social TV 2.0. It’s all about the show, not the TV.

Beamly. The Show Never Stops.