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Start-Up Aims to Boost UltraViolet; Former Sony Execs Back Product

6 Aug, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

BURBANK, Calif. — During Warner’s recent Media Camp event, Mike Takac, EVP of sales for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, lamented that getting UltraViolet content to the living room screen has been “a struggle” for both content owners and digital retailers.

A start-up company may have a solution for retailers, content owners and consumers: a small, cheap, WiFi-enabled HDMI device.

As part of Warner’s second-annual Media Camp start-up accelerator program — where media and entertainment entrepreneurs are paired with studio executives to help advance new products and services — Takac was one of more than 50 Warner executives who offered mentorship to six start-up companies.

What he saw with Toggle Inc. — one of the companies chosen to share their offerings at Media Camp — left him impressed, he said.

“When we walked out of the room, we were really jazzed,” he said during the Aug. 4 Media Camp event, speaking about the first meeting he and other Warner executives had with Adam Johnson, co-founder of Toggle.

Toggle wants to remove the need for retailers and content companies to have their own silos for delivering UltraViolet content to the TV, and instead offer consumers an HDMI-based device that acts as a “physical key to your UltraViolet locker,” Johnson said. Connecting to a WiFi network, the small Toggle dongle — similar in appearance to Google’s Chromecast device — would stream UltraViolet content to any TV with an HDMI input.

Instead of every studio and retailer setting up their own solution for delivering UltraViolet content, Toggle (which has raised an initial round of seed funding from Warner) would provide universal access to UltraViolet libraries for the consumer, using a device that could cost as little as $20, Johnson said.

The idea already has some long-time heavy hitters in the home entertainment industry on board: both David Bishop, former president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Mitch Singer, the former chief digital strategy officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, are members of Toggle’s board of directors. Both Bishop and Singer left Sony earlier this year. Singer serves as president of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the cross-industry consortium behind UltraViolet.

Toggle’s Johnson said his hardware-first approach for UltraViolet delivery is meant to level the playing field: Just because a retailer got in on the ground floor when UltraViolet launched (in 2011) doesn’t mean it’s “the best or most innovative service,” he said. The Toggle device would have apps already embedded, would be “easy to use and navigate,” would not need to synch to other devices, and would come with its own remote, he added.

Toggle — which became a member of DECE in January — already has one retailer (“One of the world’s largest,” Johnson hinted) on board for an October launch of the device.

Five other start-ups shared their wares at the Warner Bros. Media Camp event:

• If you’re a home entertainment executive, seeing side-by-side offerings for Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and other consumer products related to video content (as it plays online) has to be an attractive idea. Enter Sidevision, an e-commerce platform that (using video metadata) allows content creators and retailers to pair consumer products with relevant videos.

Company CEO Justin Wu said the platform is aimed at both monetizing content and providing consumer analytics, but does so in a non-intrusive way: a preview of Warner’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies showed numerous film-related merchandise available on the side, without getting in the way of the video itself.

Users can click directly through to retailers, or save items they’re interested in, without ever leaving the video. Sidevision promises simple integration with any video service and any retailer.

• The United Kingdom’s Portal Entertainment enjoyed some success with its first interactive storytelling app (“The Craftsman”) last year, and the company is hoping to expand on that in the U.S. going forward.

Portal Entertainment uses tablets and mobile devices to tell stories that immerse users in the experience, with the app responding to facial reactions, and incorporating other device features (text messaging, phone, etc.) to make the user actually feel like the main character.

Company CEO Julian McCrea said several projects are in the works with Warner, Fox and Universal, and that the company is looking for artists to join in.

• Bubbl’s concept can be considered the Vine of premium content.

“We have so much content online, but only 5% of it is [able to be captured],” said company CEO Mauhan Zonoozy. He wants all online video — well, at least nine-second clips of videos — to be shared among fans, to help drive new consumers back to the full experience.

Bubbl’s “bite-sized” video-sharing tool feeds into the short attention spans of today’s online audience, and gives users the ability to find the best moments of content they love, and share them in order to drive more consumers to the full-length products, he said.

• When it comes to advertising and getting the word out via social media and email campaigns, timing can be everything, according to Stephane Allard, CEO of Wisemetrics. His company is geared toward offering content companies the optimum window for getting the most consumer eyeballs with those campaigns.

“Great content is not enough, if nobody sees it,” he said.

Wisemetrics offers a content distribution platform that uses predictive analytics to pin down the exact right times for a brand to get the most out of social media. That means mining the data of millions of social media posts, identifying consumer trends, and offering tools (headline testing, message repetition, etc.) that makes sure a marketing department is getting the most ROI from any social media campaign.

• Incoming Media has one goal: make the mobile video experience as seamless as the TV experience. That means no stalls, high-def video, and easy access to what consumers want, when they want it.

That’s not the reality with mobile today, according to Incoming Media CEO Adam Tom. “If it’s not a great [mobile] experience, [viewers] bail out,” he said. “But if the content is already there, they can have a great mobile experience.”

Today’s content distribution networks (CDNs) aren’t meant for mobile video, Tom said. Incoming Media gets around that by pre-positioning video content on mobile devices in advance. Looking at viewers’ video interests and how they connect to data networks, the company’s technology determines what videos viewers are interested in watching, over which wireless networks, and pre-positions (or “push”) the content onto mobile devices before consumers watch.

“We provide fresh insight into what happens with mobile video,” Tom said.

When consumers have a positive mobile video experience, they spend more time with the content, re-engage with the product, and spend more money as well, Tom said.

The company is aiming to hook up mobile video app developers and content providers with its product. 

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