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Cisco Partners Up for TV Apps

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is once again looking to a partner to fill a gap in its Videoscape platform as it seeks ways to help MSOs run interactive TV apps on tablets and smartphones.

Cisco, which is already working with ActiveVideo for ITV apps for set-top boxes, has formed a similar partnership with Coincident so Videoscape can deliver interactive apps to second screens that are synched up with live video broadcasts. (See Cisco & ActiveVideo Go Steady.)

"Cisco has brought us into the cable world. ... A lot of the hooks into the cable architecture are being driven by Cisco," says Coincident SVP of Marketing John Gilles, a video industry vet who has seen ITV's hype cycles run their course at networks such as ZDTV/TechTV and G4.

San Francisco-based Coincident and its ScreenSync TV platform is coming into play as channels and networks increasingly look to portable companion devices to engage viewers about what's being shown on live TV.

And instead of relying on a bunch of software in the cable set-top box, most of Coincident's heavy lifting occurs on the portable device and servers in the cable headend. The trick is to match up the app on the tablet or smartphone with what's happening on the live TV feed ... and not completely disrupt the live TV viewing experience.

For example, if a viewer wants to launch a short VoD title about an actor in Glee, the command is routed via the Internet from the tablet or phone to the cable headend, which then sends the appropriate VoD stream to the set-top box for playout. As this happens, the system pauses the live TV program being watched on the set-top's DVR buffer. When viewers are done watching the VoD asset, they are then returned to the live program at the frame at which they left off.

"We can control what happens on the big glass (the TV) and with the iPad," Gilles explains.

He says Coincident is especially excited about so-called "phablets," such as the Samsung Corp. Galaxy Note, which is a cross between a smartphone and a tablet. "We think second-screen companion [devices] will rotate around devices like the iPad, but longer term we think that phones will get bigger and better and become the preferred companion device," Gilles says. (See Samsung Sells 5M Phablets and Samsung Adds Style to the Phablet.)

Although Cisco is trying to grease the skids for Coincident's cable play, the startup's just now starting to pursue deals with MSOs and doesn't have any cable deployments yet. But some engineers like what they've seen so far. Coincident's ScreenSynch TV product won the "Best New Idea" award at the CableLabs Winter Conference in March in Philadelphia.

Coincident, which believes it could get some early cable traction in Europe, is also targeting IPTV providers. The company is using this week's National Association of Broadcasters confab in Las Vegas to launch Coincident Create, an authoring tool to help MSOs and content owners build second-screen, companion apps. Coincident's programming partners include MTV, CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS), USA Networks and Fox Broadcasting Co.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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