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.
What is Flingo’s mission?
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 producers.
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.
How is Fling being used in devices?
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 strategy.
What companies employ this architecture and why isn’t Flingo a better-known brand?
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.
What message would you like to convey to
retailers about the changing dynamics of smart-TV sales?
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.
How does your software leverage broadcast TV as a selling tool?
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 customers’ homes.
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.
Is all this getting through to the end user? How would you change the way smart TV is being marketed today?
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
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.