zeebox App May Change the Way We Watch TV

Gone are the days of watching TV all alone in your living room. The zeebox app for mobile devices calls itself a "viewing companion." It can connect you to other people that are watching the same show. It's also a second screen app that offers information and videos related to the show you are watching. It was launched in the U.S. in September, 2012 but has been rapidly gaining popularity, support, partners, and may take the lead in the second screen TV solution. Some multi-featured apps try to do too much and become confusing. The zeebox app incorporates many aspects of the TV viewing experience and enhances it in a way that is changing the way we watch TV.

Beginning with a seven-day TV guide that has a time/day bar across the top to easily scrub to the exact time you want in your cable/satellite schedule. Tap the alarm clock to be reminded when the show will start and tap on the chat symbol to invite friends to watch with you. For Comcast subscribers, the app can act as an Xfinity remote control to change the channel when a show is chosen.

The center column of the tablet app includes a Twitter feed of tweets that include the show's hashtag (#). Currently, there is a problem with the feed and I had to be careful to stop reading the tweets when watching The Biggest Loser Finale. East Coasters were commenting on who won and other details about the end of the show. I didn't realize that the Twitter comments should come with a spoiler alert. Special treatment is given to celebrities who tweet about the show as their comments can be found in a separate column.

When you set up zeebox, you can connect the app to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Your social friends that also use zeebox will be listed so that you can instant message chat with them easily when they have the app running.

Along with the social aspects of zeebox, there is the second screen experience-- enhanced content including links to related online websites, video clips, downloadable apps, and related news. Information related to the current TV show content is listed under "zeeTags." When watching The Amazing Race zeeTags included information about the "smelly streets" of Hanoi that reeked of seafood. It added a dimension to watching the show that made feel like I was there. During the news, the zeeTags can come in handy to learn more about an unfamiliar person or other fact. Anderson Cooper mentioned Senator Mitch McConnell and a zeeTag appeared. I clicked on it to find out all about the Senator along with recent news about him and other related links.

The app creates zeeTags by scanning a show's closed captioning information and looking up key names, places or phrases. Because this is automated, some zeeTag results are humorous. During Survivor, "tribal council" was described as a Canadian First Nation's ritual, and the mention of contestant "Corrine" brought up information on the song "Corrina, Corrina."

Co-Founders, Anthony Rose, previously with BBC iPlayer (the British counterpart to Hulu) and former EMI executive Ernesto Schmidt launched zeebox in the UK during the 2011 holiday season where Sky became a partner. NBCUniversal, Comcast, HBO, Cinemax, and Viacom have partnered with zeebox in U.S. There is more detailed, enhanced content for shows from these providers.

In a phone conversation with Rose, he explained to me that it doesn't make sense for networks to create their own second screen apps. Networks can spend a hundred thousand dollars on an app to go along with a specific TV show. These apps take up space on a mobile device during hiatus, and end up in what he refers to as the "app graveyard" when the series is finished.

So far, zeebox has only worked with live TV shows, but Rose was confident that their next updates will bring On-Demand, DVR support, and filters to stop spoiler comments coming in on a West Coast twitter feed. Other new features in the update include a section for favorites, and personalized recommendations that are behavioral and contextual--based on what you've watched and shows that share similar genres, themes, attributes.

There are second screen mobile apps from other companies that will be launched this year. Flingo is developing apps that work with various Smart TVs. The Slingbox Companion will add second screen discovery of new shows, sports statistics, and social media to an app that will also act as a Slingbox remote control.

Still, zeebox seems to have pulled it together and is offering the app as a second screen resource for content providers. From everything I've seen so far, it is positioning itself to Il be one of the primary second screen solutions in the coming years as we become more interactive with TV. If you want to "play along" there will be special features to accompany NBC's The Voice premiere on Sunday March 31st.