SAN DIEGO – The former president and co-founder of
BitTorrent has embarked on a mission to make smart TV
viewing a friendlier consumer experience and a more lucrative
venture for programmers and advertisers.
Ashwin Navin, Flingo founder and CEO, said the
foundation layer for his company’s Flingo bookmarklet
and client server program software will soon give retailers
the potential to turn anything that appears on a TV
screen into an interactive e-commerce video catalog for
their retailing efforts.
TWICE caught up with Navin at the DisplaySearch
Flat-Panel TV Forum here, where he outlined the plans
for his latest venture and provided a possible blueprint
for how CE retailing (or retailing of any kind) may shortly
be transacted on the connected TVs selling through
brick-and-mortar stores today.
TWICE: What is Flingo’s mission?
Navin: Flingo develops software products that we’ve
licensed to CE manufacturers, including Sanyo, LG,
Samsung, Insignia, Western Digital, among others.
The company to date has shipped its software on just
over 8 million Blu-ray players and set-top boxes.
We are trying to turn the smart-TV market into something
that is much more pleasing to consumers and a
much better business for manufacturers and the media
We’ve made it very easy for media companies to publish
apps. One of the problems is that there are 15 different
TV manufacturers and it’s not easy to build 15 different
apps. So we’ve made it easy to do that in one stop. If
you publish with our tools, you can reach them all at once.
One thing that piggybacks on that is that advertisers
can now reach a very large number of screens in one go.
If you take the whole app economy in smart TVs, it is
actually much smaller than the traditional linear broadcasting
economy. The amount of time people spend
watching broadcast TV programming dwarfs the amount
of time they spend streaming from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu
or one of our apps.
We wanted our apps to dovetail and integrate with the
broadcast experience. We developed some IP that allows
our software [SyncApps] to automatically detect what’s
on screen and integrate it with the broadcast experience.
So now we are playing in a much bigger universe on
a lot more real estate than the apps store itself. All that
is broadcast becomes a potential apps store platform.
As an example, you could write something so that while
watching “American Idol,” an app pops up to let the viewer
vote on a favorite contestant during a performance.
We have an underlying architecture for everything we do
called Fling. We open-sourced that because one of the big
missing things in the whole TV universe is that the TV sits
on a sort of island and all these different devices are now
connected and talking to each other except for the TV.
Where DLNA fell short, no one had figured out how
the TV could speak more openly with Cloud-based content.
So, we felt somebody had to finally standardize in
the open source realm. We needed to create an open
communication within the local area network so your TV,
tablet, laptop and phone can all talk to each other.
Flingo open-sourced Fling, not for any direct profit, but
to educate the market and show that there really should
be this open communication. Hopefully, DLNA or someone
else can just pick it up and run with it.
TWICE: How is Fling being used in devices?
Navin: Say I find a piece of content that my friend
emailed me or posted to Twitter and I want to watch that
on my TV. Using the Fling architecture you could literally
fling that content from your mobile device onto your TV
in one step. That same architecture becomes useful to
an advertiser so that if, for example, I am interested in
finding out more about some content that I’m watching, I
can pull it back from the TV to the web.
This way, IMDB could know what movie I have up on a
screen and open to the appropriate IMDB page without
my having to search for it. I think that open communication
is a huge missing component of everyone’s TV
TWICE: What companies employ this architecture
and why isn’t Flingo a better-known brand?
Navin: TMZ, FOX, Vimeo, Warner Bros. and others.
For the most part, Flingo intends to remain transparent
to the end user, but occasionally it designates apps with
“Fueled by Flingo” where it makes sense.
TWICE: What message would you like to convey to
retailers about the changing dynamics of smart-TV sales?
Navin: You are missing the biggest opportunity there
is in your business by letting a product leave your shelf
without having any real way of leveraging it after the sale.
Data collection alone can be invaluable. In addition to
that, the business of selling programming and advertising
is a much bigger business than selling only consumer
electronics products. Why wouldn’t you want some
kind of play on a recurring revenue stream with a service
layer that is outside the store and inside the TV?
Walmart’s Vudu is an example of how to make that happen,
but right now it is a small business that is completely
ignoring the much larger opportunity in broadcast TV.
TWICE: How does your software leverage broadcast
TV as a selling tool?
Navin: Flingo’s Sync-Apps software allows retailers to
literally use anything that appears on a TV.
Home shopping networks are multibillion-dollar
operations taking sales from a 1-800 number at
the bottom of the TV screen, but if that TV is connected,
the retailer who sold it has the ability to
tap into an e-commerce revenue stream in their
Two of the nation’s leading retailers – Walmart
[through Sanyo TVs] and Best Buy [through private-
label Insignia TVs] – now have relationships
with Flingo to tap some of that potential.
When Walmart or Best Buy put their billing engine
into their e-commerce platform on the TV,
they become the layer to transact not only with all
these other home shopping channels but potentially
anything else that you see on your screen.
TWICE: Is all this getting through to the end
user? How would you change the way smart TV is
being marketed today?
Navin: We went to Hollywood and acquired
rights on a lot of content for smart TV, and it’s not
the stuff that Vudu and Netflix and a number of others
are streaming. We went a lot deeper to people
like BlipTV and Vimeo and Break.com to have the
rights to icons that can be placed in any Flingoenabled
TVs on retail displays as well as icons for
popular musicians like Justin Bieber, Kanye West
and Linkin Park.
We did this because we believe the marketing of
smart TV needs a refresh. If I see a regular TV next
to TV carrying all of these icons, I might be more
motivated to buy that product, especially if I’m with
my 12-year-old daughter who sees the Justin Bieber
icon on that TV. I think TV brands today need to get
away from listing all of the tech jargon that is meaningless
to many shoppers and start showing them
how this product is going to fit into their lifestyle.