Startup Offers Novel Approach To TV Navigation on Handhelds

The Eyecon user interface

The Eyecon user interface

July 24, 2009 – A novel approach to content navigation developed by startup Eyecon Technologies raises the possibility that portable devices such as netbooks, smartphones and MIDs could become platforms for personalized exploration of TV viewing options apart from whatever is appearing on the big screen.

Eyecon has developed software that supports a touch-screen approach to sorting through and sampling all the fare available for TV viewing, including Web content, programming stored on DVRs, personal media and, assuming service providers play along, subscription TV. “As more Internet-like experiences are available to TV viewers, the approach to discovering and accessing content is going to be different from what we’re accustomed to,” says Bill Correll, vice president of marketing at Eyecon.

With a spate of navigation innovations hitting the market, it’s clear many people agree with that point. But where other innovators are working on ways to make the electronic programming guide a remote-controlled gateway to all content sources by rendering the near-infinite easily accessible via sophisticated personalization and recommendation techniques, Eyecon is putting its unique user interface to use on devices that operate independently of the TV.

As explained and demonstrated by Eyecon executives the downloadable software is now in beta mode and available free to users from the company’s Web site. Correll says the company has incorporated interfaces that support a great variety of content libraries, such as Rovi (Macrovision) Connected Platform, Apple iTunes and HP MediaSmart, and TV playback devices such as D-Link, MiniMac, AppleTV and the PC.

The platform includes a media control point which automatically aggregates a user’s locally stored media library and any authorized Web-based media sources into a virtual library. Correll says the company hopes to negotiate deals with service providers that will expand the library to include subscription TV programming as well, but, at this point, the focus is on working with consumer electronics manufacturers to add a new approach to personal navigation separate from whatever navigational aids the CE firms include with their connected HDTV sets.

The Eyecon-enabled device can be synchronized between the interface screen and the connected TV or other primary playback device, allowing the user to preview, queue, route and interact with their content without interrupting what is playing on the primary screen. “You can direct the content around the home network to any playback device and use the user interface as the control point for fast forward, reverse, pause and volume control,” Correll says.

The Flash-based, easy-to-use platform presents the full array of options under a scroll-down “pick list” menu and allows the user to simply move selected menu categories into a play list for previewing in a picture-in-picture window on the screen. Aggregated from different sources and containing multiple formats, these items can include single media files, media folders, playlists, radio stations, TV channels and RSS feeds.

The platform includes a search engine that’s managed via a virtual keyboard to look through all available sources and add new items to the pick list. “Everything is discovered on discoverable platforms like iTunes or DLNA [Digital Living Network Alliance],” says Eyecon CTO Ari Birger.

“This isn’t about replacing your infrared remote,” Birger says. “It’s about life style and personalization where each member of the family has their own platform for aggregating and choosing from their own personal content libraries.” Individuals can preview programming choices without interrupting others’ viewing, he notes, adding: “They can set up party playlists on the fly.”

As for Eyecon’s business model, Birger says, “We want to make money by usage. We’ll personalize advertising for you and add value for content owners.” Eyecon would share the ad revenues with partners.

“We’re selling real estate,” he continues. “You get the ad in through the network. A banner can be a store front. You can tap into ad networks to draw ads that are related to what the user is watching.”

The platform naturally supports addressable advertising, Correll notes. “With each personalized UI each user is authenticated,” he says. “There’s a lot of valuable data about users and what they’re doing to be drawn from the server registry. We maintain a heartbeat interface with data on that server.”

The functionality also allows Eyecon partners to prioritize what appears in the search results and to upsell users to new service packages and other products. Partners can brand and independently host the platform as a value-add to consumers and an additional exposure option for advertisers, Correll notes. “This could be an app in an iPhone app store that gives you the capability to leverage your targeted advertising opportunities on another outlet,” he says.

Eyecon president and CEO Meir Friedlander points out several advantages he sees for content owners with respect to the advanced advertising opportunity. For one thing, he notes, the Eyecon platform affords personalized advertising options that don’t interfere with content in the TV viewing experience. “Content owners should be worried about widget and chat applications that push the programming into a corner on the TV screen,” he says. And, he asserts, studies have shown consumers are willing to accept targeted advertising as a way to cover costs of services, which would allow Eyecon partners to offer the navigation service to customers at no cost.

“Early next year we’ll begin supporting upselling, targeted advertising and paid searches,” Friedlander says. Meanwhile, the company’s campaign to line up CE, SP and other types of partners will determine whether those functionalities translate into enough eyeballs to drive the revenues Eyecon is looking for.