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Social TV guide Zeebox coming to the U.S.

By Jim O'Neill, Research Analyst, Parks Associates

Making content discovery easy for the consumer was a cinch when there were just a handful of channels from which to choose. But as channel counts rose to dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands with the increasing flow of professionally generated content online, it’s become anything but.

That massive fragmentation has made it challenging for broadcasters to deliver the targeted audience advertisers increasingly are demanding.

It’s also creates a concern for operators: Every minute a user spends away from that Pay TV provider’s STB looking for, or watching, content from an OTT provider like Netflixor Hulu, moves that user further from the operator.

John Penney, EVP of Strategy and Business Development at Starz, during a panel discussion at Park’s Associates CONNECTIONS™ Digital Living Conference in Dallas last week, said discovery, essentially, has gone awry.

“I don’t see a clear discovery paradigm that will make people stand up,” he said. “There’s nothing yet available to consumers that they’re willing to pay for.”

That’s why content search and discovery companies are fighting so hard to establish themselves with consumers and content distributors. Increase a viewers “usual” preference from 8-10 channels to 25-30 channels, and you’ll not only have happy consumers, but deeper retention and, potentially, better targeting for advertisers.

Rovi, for example, has been a mainstay of electronic programming guides for Pay-TV operators for years, and has been adding discovery features and deepening its recommendation engine and search abilities.

Likewise upstarts like Jinni, which is making its mark with a recommendation engine that uses consumer reviews and individual profiles to help supply highly focused and relevant content suggestions… and a social media aspect that makes it even more entertaining.

Add another entry to the race as Zeebox, a U.K.-based social TV app maker, announced it would come to the U.S. market within the next 60 days.

The second-screen app for Apple’s iPad, iPhone, Android devices and PCs lets users search for TV programming and also delivers addition content to their second screen. With the iPad app, it even allows them to change channels from the device instead of a remote control.

Of course, it also lets them play on Twitter and Facebook all the while, checking out what their friends are watching and vice versa.

Zeebox analyzes closed captions and knows “what’s playing second-by-second,” said CEO Anthony Rose, who joined the company after heading the BBC’s iPlayer and YouView initiatives. That data allows Zeebox to deliver second-screen advertising matched against the content. An actor driving a Chevrolet Volt onscreen, for example, could prompt the second screen to display an ad for the vehicle, even if it wasn’t originally scheduled for that show or timeslot.

Former Time Warner exec Jason Forbes is heading up Zeebox’s push into the U.S. market. U.K. users have downloaded Zeebox one million times since November; the company says it expects to attract six million users in the U.S. within its first six months here.

Of course, Zeebox doesn’t do it all. For instance, it has no way to search the increasing load of online video content, nor does it search content distributors like Netflix or Hulu, or other video on demand sites.

But no search engine out there is capable of doing it all… yet.

Why it matters:

• Content is multiplying, and discovery is more difficult. That fragmentation means advertisers have to spread out their dollars more, or take a shot at one or two paths and hope for the best… not very efficient.

• Next-gen search and discovery of content, aside from stalwarts like Rovi, is a field chockfull of competitors, with no clear winner so far. The first company to come in with a significant differentiator will have a substantial edge in the market.

• Operators have to find a way to keep consumers from abandoning the STB to go online and over the top; solid content search and discovery can help them do that. Expand a viewers “favorite” channels from 8 to 28, and you have a better chance of keeping them on your service.