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14 November 2013

Samba TV takes connected TVs by storm

Samba TV, formerly Flingo, is a US company that builds apps for connected TV platforms such as smart TVs, net-top boxes and other OTT devices. The company debuted its multi-screen interactive platform during CES earlier this year.
Samba TV develops connected TV apps for content providers. Its apps are on smart TV platforms such as Samsung, Hisense, Haier, LG, Insignia, Vizio; the list goes on and on.

It has now added Sony. ‘It’s nice to have a big platform like Sony on board,’ Ashwin Navin, founder and CEO of Samba TV, told us this week.

The company reached a milestone of 30 million devices across 118 countries a few months ago. It’s behind about 75 of the content apps on Roku, making Samba TV one of the largest app developers on Roku. Earlier this year, it partnered with TiVo to bring its suite of content apps, collected under the moniker Samba Launchpad, to TiVo’s Premiere line of Internet-connected STBs. Content providers include CollegeHumor, Fitness Magazine, A&E, Showtime and others.

Samba TV ‘ at the time known as Flingo ‘ debuted its flagship product, the Samba TV interactive platform, at this year’s CES. The Samba platform is a smart TV platform that integrates traditional linear broadcast TV with Web features such as social networks, Web video, synchronized content and multi-screen advertising.
The platform is integrated into smart TVs or Internet-connected set tops, where it has access to traditional linear TV and the Internet. Samba TV uses proprietary automated content recognition (ACR) technology to recognize what’s playing on the TV screen, whether live or time-shifted, and pull up relevant information or bonus content on the viewer’s second screen.

The synchronized content can be second screen-typical chats, polls, trivia or information about actors in a particular show, or it can be extended messaging for advertisers. The company says the interactive platform ‘closes the gap between linear television and the Web,’ and ’empowers viewers and opens up revenue opportunities for other players.’

The platform received great reception at CES, prompting the company to rebrand. ‘Given the reception at CES we ended up making the company brand more reflective of that product,’ Navin said.

The Sony announcement brings Samba’s connected TV apps to Sony’s Bravia line of smart TVs and Blu-ray players. Samba TV is bringing its content apps and advertising network to Sony’s app platform, called Bravia Internet Video (BIV).
‘They have some initiatives in-house in terms of user interface, what they’re doing with content providers, and advertising,’ Navin said. ‘We married some of the things they’ve done with some of the things we’ve done, and came up with a pretty nice combination.’

Sony’s BIV platform had a few content providers, such as Netflix and YouTube, but the selection was limited. The partnership with Samba TV will serve to greatly expand Sony’s content app selections.

Sony will also be able to take advantage of Samba TV’s advertising platform. ‘Part of the reason that a number of content providers were sitting on the sidelines was that there wasn’t a really good advertising solution in the BIV,’ Navin said. ‘Once we integrated our ad product and a very easy path for content providers, we found a lot of content providers jumped on board quickly.’

Samba will bring apps from content providers such as TMZ, TV Guide, A&E, FOX, Crunchyroll, Fitness Magazine, Vimeo, and CollegeHumor, among others.
The apps are free and ad-supported, and utilize Samba TV’s multi-screen advertising product. Samba enables advertisers to engage with viewers through second screen devices. Sponsored apps, for example, might include a sponsorship message at the beginning of a video, and the following ads deliver a unified advertising message across the first and the second screens. ‘The way we think about advertising isn’t as ‘single screen,’ ‘ Navin said. ‘The big problem with advertising on TV whether it’s a smart TV or traditional TV, is there’s no such thing as a click-through. We’re offering the advertisers the ability to close the loop.’

For example, a studio runs a trailer for an upcoming theatrical release in a connected TV app. When the trailer runs on the first screen, advertising on the viewer’s second screen will surface info such as where to buy tickets, essentially offering viewers the opportunity to ‘click through’ on their handheld devices.
The innovative part of Samba’s advertising product is that the viewer doesn’t have to download a special app on his or her second screen device in order to receive the targeted, multi-screen advertising.

‘The amazing thing is that we’re putting those ads through apps you already use,’ Navin said. ‘For example, if you’re playing Angry Birds on your phone, the ad there will synchronize with the TV ad.’

Advertising partners include American Express, BestBuy, Discovery Channel, The Home Depot, Levi’s, Nike, Mazda, McDonalds, Microsoft, and Toyota.
We’ve been hearing a lot of noise this week about smart TVs going the way of the 3D TV, as net-top boxes that can make any TV ‘smart’ gain favor among mainstream consumers. ‘The fact is that the set-top box market below $100 is growing really fast,’ Navin said. ‘I think that’s going to be trouble for the low end smart TV market.’

Navin said the low-end smart TV makers should consider ‘going dumb’ and instead partnering with net-top boxes and taking advantage of those interfaces and robust app libraries. That’s exactly what Roku has been trying to do with its streaming dongle and certification process, which it unveiled at CES earlier this year.

But Navin said, high-end TV will and should remain ‘smart’ with built-in Internet capabilities. ‘The Sharp, LGs, Samsungs and Sonys ‘ those TVs will always continue to be feature-full and premium, and the consumer will expect them to have that ability,’ Navin said. ‘Those companies have generally been successful at building out nice user interfaces and stuff like that.’

While cheaper, net-top boxes do have limitations, Navin pointed out, that Internet-connected TVs don’t have. ‘The set-top box market is strictly over the top content, where the smart TV can be smart about over-the-top as well as traditional TV,’ he said. He pointed to Google’s first NTB, Google TV. ‘Consumers weren’t really sure why they had to plug the cable box into the Google TV to watch it,’ he said.
Smart TVs, on the other hand, can seamlessly integrate Internet features with traditional linear TV, without the consumer having to worry about HDMI inputs and outputs. ‘We haven’t really even touched the beginning of that opportunity,’ he said.

Navin added that Samba TV’s apps available on Samsung TVs, for example, see a lot of traffic, indicating that consumers are, in fact, using the Internet features of their smart TVs. ‘I wouldn’t be quick to call the smart TV market dead. I think we’re just kind of getting started,’