All cable boxes these days have built-in channel guides, and Google wanted to let you search more effectively for programs with Google TV. But Boxfish is doing something different and genius— taking closed captioning information from every TV show on your box and making it indexable, searchable and discoverable in real time.
A new Silicon Valley startup wants to change all that by harnessing a feature that most channels already output—closed captioning. Boxfish captures all closed-captioning information, indexes it, then makes that data searchable in a Twitter-style interface. All in real-time.
The company was founded in January 2011 and launched its “beta” search interface in March.
“We thought that this is a fantastic way to discover television,” said Eoin (pronounced like “Owen”) Dowling, who hails from Ireland, in an interview with Ars on Tuesday.
“Most people discover television using this grid. We turned this basically TweetDeck-like feed for television into a remote control for TV. So you’re at home and you tell us what you’re interested in, and we pop what’s happening in real time and then you can control your TV with it.”
According to NPD’s retail tracking service, manufacturers sold approximately 22.2 million TVs in 2011 within the United States. Sales totaled $12.6 billion. If Palo Alto-based Boxfish can harness even one percent of those viewers (not to mention people who already own TVs), it stands to rake in a fair amount of cash. The company says it wants to sell context-driven advertising alongside the searches, not unlike Google’s text ads.
Given that Boxfish is still relatively new, many industry watchers have only had a brief chance to experience the new site. But they say that so far, it’s pretty impressive.
“Making TV searchable brings that Internet experience to TV,” said Ben Arnold, an analyst with the NPD Group (an industry analysis firm). “You think about all that content, it’s not really indexed that well. It makes total sense—seems really cool.”
Starting in “six to eight weeks,” certain cable subscribers in the United States will be able to use this “TweetDeck-like feed.” The company calls this experience Boxfish Live, and it’s a way for users to interact with their TV in an entirely new way. Now, the site lets users search for various terms, and shows trending topics. So far, these seem to revolve around entertainment, sports, and political celebrities and news. (Dowling says customers in the United Kingdom are due to follow.)
The new product will integrate the search into the TV, making it possible to switch channels directly from an iPad or other mobile device based on search terms. In other words, if you’re interested (as this reporter is), in the Texas Rangers star Iranian-Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, you could simply click the box where the word “Darvish” comes up in search terms. It will reveal that he’s being talked about not only on ESPN, but also on Comedy Central. With the click of a button, your TV would instantly switch to Comedy Central.
“We want to use this layer of information and make TV easier to discover,” Dowling said. “We want to be a layer of discovery for television.”