When Yahoo bought IntoNow earlier this year (for a reported $20 million), some people wondered what Yahoo wanted with a TV "check-in" app. Now we know: Today the IntoNow team is releasing a fully featured "second screen" iPad app that listens for audio signatures from news, sports, or other TV programs as they're being broadcast, matches them up with a database, and then serves viewers supplementary content on their tablets.
It's one of Yahoo’s most innovative offerings of late, and, as such, is the first substantive indicator that the company that has languished in the doldrums for the last few years might actually one day deliver on its promise to become "the premier digital media company."
As with the original IntoNow smartphone app, the new tablet app is able to recognize what TV show you're watching through an audio fingerprint that it matches to its database.
In the smartphone app, which launched at the beginning of the year, and which has been downloaded 1.6 million times, the only thing users can do is to "check in" to a television program as a way of making TV watching a more social experience.
The tablet app, however, jumps far ahead. It’s a complete "second screen" experience, providing a full range of additional material to enhance your boob tube experience.
Adam Cahan, the founder of IntoNow and now a vice president at Yahoo, explains to Fast Company how it works. If you're watching a game, for example, the app can serve up stats for the particular teams who are playing, or even for individual players, he says. If you're watching the news, the app will dig into the Yahoo network's vast database of content—both original Yahoo content as well as that from its many partners—and serve up related stories to the stories being broadcast. If you're watching a scripted show, the app can surface the most relevant tweets, including, for example, those from the show's actors.
"What we’re looking at is: How do you take it to the next level?" Cahan says. "We have all of these devices. They have amazing capabilities and entirely new set of inputs (for us, it's about audio inputs). So how do we use that signal to bring you more and more relevant experiences that are relevant to the context of what you’re doing."
Cahan says the IntoNow team developed the idea for the new app after joining Yahoo and watching how people who have tablets are already using them to search for related content while watching TV. (Indeed, according to research released by Nielsen earlier this year, 70% of tablet owners say they use their devices while watching TV.)
The IntoNow tablet app, then, essentially just serves up the kind of material people were already looking for, but in a much easier and more delightful way. As such, it effectively creates a secondary "broadcast" channel, one delivered to the tablet. While the actual show is broadcast onto your television, Yahoo "broadcasts" related content to viewers via IntoNow.
Cahan calls it "ambient computing"—the ability to surface highly relevant content with the minimum of action on the part of the user.
"It’s very different from what you might do on a PC," he says. "A PC is a 'two-handed' experience. You navigate primarily with text. You’re putting in a URL or [entering text into] a search box. You're spending time lots of time on 'intent-based' activities."
"With a tablet, it's more of a one-handed experience. We're minimizing the number of inputs you have to [make] to surface relevant stuff. So you press a button, we identify the show you’re watching, and we start surfacing relevant content. You don't have to engage. It’s just sort of happening," he says.
Compared to other new products Yahoo has announced recently—like its personalized digital newsstand (Livestand—launched today) and Yahoo Screen (launched last month)—the IntoNow tablet app is the first thing Yahoo is putting out there that is genuinely innovative.
Both Livestand and Yahoo Screen are essentially replications of services that already exist. But IntoNow is a leap forward—a reimagining of what it means to "watch TV" and the creation of a media consumption experience that is genuinely new.
The new paradigm—that TV watching is now a "two screen" experience—has implications not just for consumers but for show producers and advertisers as well.
Programming content for the tablet—to be consumed during the airing of—will likely become more commonplace. Some networks, like Bravo, have been focusing on the second screen for several years now, creating social media "viewing parties" for the Housewives shows, for example. But as tablets proliferate, this kind of programming will likely become the rule, rather than the exception.
Similarly, real-time consumption on the second screen will likely become a way for advertisers to turn brand advertising (of the kind that runs on TV) into something more closely approximating direct response.
Pepsi, for example, ran a campaign on the smartphone version of IntoNow. Users who used the app to audio-tag a Pepsi ad running on TV (the way Shazam lets you audio-tag a song) got a coupon downloaded to their phones.
The possibilities for advertisers could be much more expansive on the tablet app. The app could similarly use audio technology to automatically identify the ads being broadcast during the show the viewer is watching, for example, and then serve up content or other inducers to engage the viewer with the brand.
Cahan says that Yahoo's IntoNow team is exploring the opportunities for advertising, with an eye to creating a self-serve solution that advertisers could plug into to serve up experiences for viewers.
The division is similarly looking into creating a self-serve solution for show producers. Right now, all the content served on the IntoNow tablet app during a particular show comes from Yahoo. But future iterations may include the option for show creators to serve up content of their own as well, Cahan says.