Verizon Opens TV Widgets To Third-Party Developers

Tweeting on FiOS TV

Tweeting on FiOS TV

August 31, 2009 – Verizon is betting on widgets in a big way. After offering a series of homegrown traffic, weather and sports widgets for the last few years with its FiOS TV service, Verizon will open up its platform to widget developers starting this fall.

The open platform builds on Verizon’s previous work with TV widgets, including recent efforts. Earlier this summer Verizon announced the addition of Facebook and Twitter widgets to the TV service in a new feature called “Widget Bazaar” located within the FiOS TV interactive media guide. The Widget Bazaar reaches more than seven million interactive set-top devices in FiOS TV homes.

With the Twitter widget, for instance, users can follow their friends’ tweets while watching TV. “American Idol” viewers can see trending topics and “American Idol” specific ones, as an example, or just tweet with their friends.

In the first three weeks, Verizon said consumers sent millionsof tweets and viewed millions of Facebook photos on their TV screens.

In September, developers will be able to design widgets for the Widget Bazaar with the release of the development kit. They’ll be able to download a software developer’s kit, which also includes a FiOS platform emulator so they can test their applications in advance and then submit to Verizon. The software developer’s kit will use the programming language Lua.

Widgets can be designed as potential revenue generators with price tags or ads attached.

Screenplays talked to Verizon’s Ruchir Rodriquez, vice president of product platforms, about the Widget Bazaar and his expectations for it.

ScreenPlays – What will this enable you to do that you can’t do today?

Rodriquez – We have always been of the mindset that openness generates innovation, and now our platform is mature and ready and efficient. We want to invite innovation from the outside, and the best way to do that is let people build from the outside.

SP – Is this a subscriber retention play?

Rodriquez – I wouldn’t say it’s just retention. It’s also a revenue play. You could charge for a widget or there could be ads. It will open up a revenue stream for us. It’s also a huge acquisition play to say we have Twitter on TV and Facebook on TV.

SP – What is proving to be popular in the Widget Bazaar?
Rodriquez – Both Twitter and Facebook are popular. Say you are watching “American Idol;” then you can see what people are talking about at the same time. Before you would have had to do that on the computer. Now you are in the lean-back experience and watching your favorite show and seeing what people are commenting about. We also have Facebook, so if you are a Facebook user you can do all your Facebook functions on TV. One of the biggest successes is people love to watch photos and pictures on TV because it’s on the big screen.

SP – Can you develop for smartphones and transfer to the Widget Bazaar?

Rodriquez – We have a Verizon Wireless application called ‘Chaperone’ to see where your kids are and that’s the kind of application that can cross over. But again, once we open it to app developers you are going to see a lot of this new innovation.

SP – What’s the back story for the open development platform and how does it work?

Rodriquez – We started the whole concept of widgets on TV. The first thing we did was when you go to FiOS TV if you press widgets for weather and traffic during the TV watching experience, you could get instantaneous feeds from the Internet. So we broke the barrier of TV watching and getting information from the Internet. Those were very successful in terms of people using them, and they were based on local information.

SP – Can you quantify the success?

Rodriquez – We don’t disclose that information, but I can safely say one of the most popular widgets was getting weather and traffic, and since then we have been adding more widgets, such as headlines news and sports. Last year we launched fantasy football so you could have a fantasy football team on the TV. The platform is now open in the sense that we can invite partners. You can build your own apps and put them on FiOS. Our partners and developers can come in with their applications and use our programming API to build apps. We have given them tools at code.verizon.com. We are letting people register, and then we’ll give them the software development kit.

SP – How do you compare to Yahoo TV widgets?

Rodriquez – Yahoo has put its widgets on the TV so if you buy certain TVs you can have the widgets on them. With FiOS, the experience is integrated and uses the relevance of the content you are watching to fill up the information on the Twitter widget, for instance, and showing it to you in real time. You can see the info on your widget, and you don’t lose the actual perspective of watching TV.