Boxfish’s iPad App Brings the Twitter Model to Broadcast Television

Startup Boxfish, which aims to index all of the content spoken on broadcast television, today introduced the first consumer-facing practical application of its technology in the form of the Boxfish Live Guide for iPad. The startup, which was originally based in London but relocated to Palo Alto in early 2011, is hoping that its iPad app will help users do more than just channel surf when looking for live broadcast content.

What the iPad app provides is a smart TV guide, one that understands when content is trending (i.e. what subjects are being talked about most in newscasts, etc.), can be configured to notify viewers when certain topics come up, and also lets viewers create custom categories and lists to see fresh content related to those topics as it arrives. It’s a little like having a Tweetdeck or HootSuite for broadcast television, and the Boxfish team thinks it’s going to change the way viewers interact with TV, a technology that’s been largely static since its start, in terms of how people discover and consume content.

“We found users were bookmarking search result pages on the search engine we had online, and it dawned on us that it wasn’t Google they were looking for, it was Twitter,” Boxfish founder Eoin Dowling said in an interview. “They were using it more like a Twitter tool than they were like a search engine. Basically, Twitter, the UI and everything ultimately comes out of the fact that it’s a real-time feed of information, and when we started looking at television in a similar way it all started to click in and make sense.”

Since Boxfish uses a combination of straightforward language recognition and natural language processing, it does more than just index every word spoken on broadcast television in the markets it covers, it also has the power to weight results and judge context, going beyond just recognizing words.

That’s a powerful proposition for those whose livelihood is broadcast TV, and Boxfish has already attracted some interest from major media partners, including Direct TV and TiVo, where the iPad app will have set-top box integration at launch in select markets. Other talks are underway, according to Dowling, and the goal is ultimately to become the discovery layer on all broadcast TV.

This is something we’ve seen other companies try, including Google with Google TV, but so far results have been less than impressive, and have failed to really achieve mass-market adoption or interest. Boxfish is hoping that its solution, which Dowling says will eventually expand to other mobile platforms beyond the iPad, will eventually be able to succeed where others have so far fallen short, by surfacing the real-time value of broadcast TV – the unique immediacy of live video.

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