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CES 2013: video hands-on with Vobile TVsync, watching what you watch

We’ve all seen augmented reality apps and barcode scanner apps, and heard about the rush among broadcaster to offer ‘second screen’ content to complement what’s showing on TV, but what about a system that marries the two?

Based on a digital fingerprinting system design to help Hollywood film studios go looking online for sources of pirated content, Vobile’s new TVsync system is a smartphone and tablet app-led platform that lets broadcasters and any third party create an app to access specialised content. 

TVsync is being called the Shazam of the second screen, principally because it uses metadata to match what’s showing on any device.



In our demo we opened up a test app – this is a platform for third party companies, not a product in its own right – and pointed the phone at a laptop showing American football; within seconds the fingerprint in the live TV broadcast had been recognised and the ESPN website had appeared. It also works by taking a quick snap of the screen. With an iPad pointed at a re-run of Modern Family, up popped a page of where to buy the DVD boxset, including eBay auctions. 

The kind of content that can be delivered can be anything from biographies, polls, games, targeted advertising – anything.

“We’ve got live TV that’s been fingerprinted on the fly by our servers, which becomes a known fingerprint,” Devon Child of Vobile tells us. “On the client side an app developer would integrate with our SDK and use either video, a single frame, or the audio, to create a fingerprint in the same way. We send that to the cloud for matching and then send a response.”

Once they’re synchronised and delivering second screen content, there can be a continuous sync, perhaps just using the audio channel to monitor whether the viewer is still in the room. 

The potential is mind-boggling for advertising especially, though what TVsync is used for isn’t Child’s concern. “We don’t fancy ourselves as app developers,” he says. “We’ve done a few, but we’re managing a platform – our clients can do whatever they want.”

TVSync is already talking to networks and channel including Turner, Al-Jazeera and a ‘very major’ telecoms company in the UK, though Childs has his opinions on where TVsync might best live.

“The use case that’s so compelling is on the hardware itself,” he says. “Imagine this embedded on a smart TV chip, synchronising and monitoring – and recording – what’s on and what’s being watched.”

A Big Brother with big ears and big eyes? Good for the broadcasters, but many of us might not want our every viewing moment being analysed and sold to marketers.

CES 2013 live report by Jamie Carter


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