To the delight of marketers, advertisers, and content providers worldwide, Israeli start-up AttracTV has developed ‘vidgets’ – an interactive application platform for on-line TV viewing.
Television watching has traditionally been a passive activity; the preferred way to approach the set is to sit in front of it and ‘veg out.’ But as TV moves to the Internet – with programs becoming increasingly available on-line – the viewing experience is poised for radical change.
A harbinger of that change is Israeli start-up AttracTV. Its applications called ‘vidgets’ get viewers involved with what they’re watching, and turn veg-out time into a stimulating interactive experience. Based on the interest that vidgets are attracting all over the world, AttracTV could very well turn out to be one of those wildly successful, far-reaching Israeli start-ups, like ICQ.
A vidget, Tsachi Sofer, AttracTV CEO tells ISRAEL21c, may be a small screen pop-up that instantly provides viewers of a basketball game with statistics like their team’s standings, top scorers in the game, and even instant replays. A vidget can be an on-screen interface for Twitter, which parses tweets from other Twitter users watching the game and displays them in a pop-up so that viewers can add their comments while they watch, in real-time (ditto for Facebook and other social networking sites).
Broadcasters can place an instant poll on the screen, which viewers can click on so they can vote while they’re watching. And advertisers can use on-screen vidgets so that viewers can order a pizza during the game – without having to surf to a different site, or even pick up a phone.
You may be surprised to learn that all of these vidget applications are already in use, with NBA.com and several Israeli television broadcasters numbering among AttracTV’s clients. Viewers who subscribe can watch games on-line instead of just on TV, and have their viewing enhanced by these and other vidgets that transform a spectator sport into an interactive experience for the fans.
Changing TV habits
“More people than ever are watching sporting events, reality shows, and even dramas and sitcoms on-line,” says Sofer, citing statistics that show significant increases in the number of on-line TV viewers at premium sites over the past several years, even when the show they’re watching is available on cable TV. For example, about 10 million people watched this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament at the CBS March Madness on demand site – 35 percent more than in 2009.
That growth will continue and even accelerate Sofer anticipates, as more people watch video and even ‘traditional’ TV using non-traditional methods – such as cell phones or iPads. Sofer believes that the iPad will go a long way to changing TV viewing habits.
“Already, the amount of video being viewed by iPad users is between two and three times what Apple predicted,” Sofer reports, adding that even ordinary TVs are going on-line. “As more TVs are being sold with an Internet connection, and as bandwidth expands, broadcasters are going to be providing more programming on-line.”
So far, there’s no one else doing anything like AttracTV – giving Sofer and his partner Guy Tomer an edge in not only serving a market that has embraced vidget technology, but in helping to shape tomorrow’s online advertising environment.
“Until now, banner ads were seen as the ultimate in web advertising, but thanks to our system, advertisers and content owners will be able to give much more to those using their sites. At a recent trade show, one marketer told me how much more effective their ads were using vidgets; that they were no longer restricted to ‘dumb banners,’ but can now provide useful content that their customers will remember,” Sofer tells ISRAEL21c.
Changing camera angles at Big Brother
Apart from the on-line NBA games, for which AttracTV built a plethora of applications, the company’s wares have been used for other content, such as the on-line broadcast of the Israeli version of reality show Big Brother this past year. While he can’t reveal specific numbers, Sofer says, “The statistics clearly showed that viewers were staying on the site longer and clicking through to more ads than they otherwise would have.”
The applications included the ability to change camera angles in the Big Brother house; updates on each of the residents, complete with pop-up ‘video confessions;’ flash polls on each character’s personal drama; little animations (used for ads) that would talk or otherwise respond when clicked on; and even a news vidget.
While the idea of receiving pop-up news updates seems a bit out of place in the world of Big Brother, Sofer says that it was an extremely popular vidget, with many users clicking on a headline for a full story at the affiliated news site.
“On a show like Big Brother, which was broadcast 24 hours a day on-line, there are going to be some dull spots, and our vidgets offer broadcasters a way to engage users even further, keeping them on-site longer,” Sofer explains.
Sofer and Tomer came up with the idea for AttracTV about two and a half years ago. “We were watching an Israeli game show and thought it would be cool to interact with the contestants, answering the questions on our own and getting involved in the game,” he recounts. “We thought about the idea and saw that it could apply to many kinds of viewing – especially sports.”
Off-the-shelf vidgets will be available soon
After an initial foray, when they tried to develop something for cable TV – which Sofer says was difficult because broadcast TV is a closed, fixed platform – they hit on the idea of creating an application platform for on-line video, which evolved into the vidget.
Founded in 2007, AttracTV currently has eight employees, a number that is likely to expand in the near future when the Tel Aviv-based company makes its API publicly available to potential customers (right now AttracTV is in closed beta, with customers reviewed in advance by Sofer and Tomer).
At that point, any customer who signs up will be able to use off-the-shelf vidgets and apply them to their sites, or have custom-made vidgets developed for them. The target market, says Sofer, is large and mid-size ad agencies and marketers, although a program will also be available for small advertisers. The technology is geared toward professional websites, not the YouTube crowd.
The company received funding from a group of angels and, more recently, from Jerusalem Capital Partners, but it’s already making money from sales of vidget technology.
“There are many on-line video sites in countries all over the world with local productions and personalities that AttracTV will be perfect for, not to mention sporting events, and we are getting inquiries every day,” Sofer concludes.