Social TV: Shazam-ing the Olympics

olympics shazam

To “shazam” a song has become as much of a popular expression in the music sphere as “to google” directions on a map in the search world. I have been “shazaming” the Olympics on my TV since they started in late July, and the results have been interesting, especially as seen through the lens of the Social TV ecosystem. Through a deal Shazam signed with Olympics broadcaster NBC, U.S. viewers can use the Shazam app on their smartphone to access additional info such as extra content on athletes, updated info on event results, and medal count. They can also share on Twitter and Facebook. Below is a screen shot of what the Shazam Olympic app looks like on my iphone:

The basic job of quickly recognizing that I was watching the Olympics was done flawlessly, although I wish it had taken me directly to the event I was watching rather than the general “Tag” page showed above. The menu on that page was intuitive and well-designed, but the “Watch Live Video” option linked to the NBC app, which had to be downloaded and then did not work well. Tighter integration between Shazam and its content partner to instantly launch videos from the Shazam app would enhance the viewer experience. Also, I shazamed an ad at one point, it did take me to additional content related to the ad – but it was in Turkish! In other words, the system did not receive information about my geo location.

(Note: My comments above are based on randomly watching various Olympic events, on different days and at different times in the U.S. Pacific time zone.)

There is still room for improvement, but “you need to walk before you run” and Shazam is definitely “power-walking.” Try it: download the Shazam app on your phone (it’s available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile), point it to the TV while the Olympics are on, hit the Shazam icon and voila! Check out the results.

For those who don’t already know Shazam, it’s a London-based company that launched a music recognition service in 2002. It became the 10th most downloaded app in the iTunes store and currently has 200M users around the world (70% in the U.S.). The app can identify whatever piece of music you are listening to, in whatever context. Say you hear a song you like while having a drink in a bar, or on the car radio while cruising, or on your couch watching a TV show; pick up your smartphone, hit the Shazam icon, and the name of the song comes up with the option to buy/download it. Very cool service, I have been using it for years and I can’t remember it ever failing me, even in super-noisy environments such as crowded bars.

I met with Shazam CEO Andrew Fisher in London in late June, a few weeks before the Olympics started. We discussed his vision for pivoting the business – from solely recognizing music to also recognizing TV content. Building on its music recognition algorithms, Shazam has been developing Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology to listen to and identify what viewers are watching on TV and serve them more information about the program or the featured ads. Fisher says that a recently updated version of their product can recognize TV shows in less than one second.

ACR, which has also been developed by other companies such as Audible Magic, Flingo, IntoNow, and Civolution (see my roundup of the Social TV ecosystem for more information), is used by second screen providers (such as Miso, GetGlue, or zeebox) to identify what is being watched on TV to enable interactive services, such as voting or viewing more information.

Shazam launched its TV-oriented service last year and since then has Shazam-enabled various mass audience TV events in the U.S., such as:

• The Super Bowl 2012: During the game viewers could get up-to-the-minute stats on both teams. The halftime show was also “shazamable” – during Madonna’s performance, “Shazamers” could get a set list and a free LMFAO remix of Madonna’s latest single. The app also covered the REAL Super Bowl attraction – the ads. About a quarter of Super Bowl ads were Shazam-enabled, meaning that when viewers shazamed the ad being showed on TV, they were taken to additional second screen content. The best, in my view, was this video synched to the Pepsi commercial. Watch it, it’s funny:

• The 54th Annual Grammy Awards: Shazaming the show gave viewers additional information (on a second screen) around the night’s nominees and performers. One of the night’s most popular features was a contest for viewers to win tickets to attend next year’s awards.

My view is that Shazam’s main asset is its existing 200M-strong user base. That represents an enormous potential to reach new audiences for studios, networks, brands, handset and TV manufacturers, app platforms, wireless carriers, etc. Based on recent discussions with execs at U.S. studios and networks (an industry that has been ambivalent about embracing new digital technologies because of the inherent security risk around digital access to content and the disruption these technologies could cause to the content providers’ existing revenue model) there is a growing awareness that to capture younger audiences they will have to increasingly play with digital trail-blazers, like Shazam. Same for brands – if they want to sell products targeted at the “digitally-fluent” they will have to serve their ads where these eyeballs are. As for CE manufacturers, adding ACR to their devices would enable new revenue streams beyond the single sale of a device.

Another strength of Shazam: it is well funded (received $32M in 2011, see my earlier blog about Social TV funding) and the lead in the latest round was Kleiner Perkins (KPCB), Silicon Valley’s top VC firm, who has backed some high profile winners in the past – such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zynga, etc. This should enable Shazam to finance further development in the U.S. market, where the window of opportunities to partner which content providers and other TV industry players is now.


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