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Comcast/NBCU Hackathon Produces First Winners

Mari Silbey
6/25/2014

The first group to walk through the door at the Comcast/NBC Universal hackathon last weekend was an all-female team of three. Hours later, and with the addition of one man to their crew, the team went on win top honors at the event for Thumbnail, a software app providing customized news delivery based on user input and behavioral patterns.

For their prize, the four winners earned an award presentation at 30 Rock's Studio 8H -- home to Saturday Night Live -- in New York and an offer to incubate the prototype application with product developers at NBC News.

Team Thumbnail scoops first prize.
Team Thumbnail scoops first prize.

The hackathon competition for software developers, which was produced with the help of AngelHack and its developer relations network, was the first ever for Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and subsidiary NBCUniversal LLC (NBCU). Sanjay Macwan, senior vice president and CTO of Media Labs at NBCU, said he didn't know what to expect from the inaugural event. But, in an interview with Light Reading, he was very enthusiastic about the results.

"It was phenomenal," commented Macwan, "[the] range of demographics, and the diversity … We had a pretty good diversity in the age … as well as diversity in the skills."

The theme for the weekend was "Help Shape The Future of Media & Technology." Different business units within Comcast and NBCU set several challenges, and 23 teams then went to work for 24 hours creating their app submissions. The hosts provided content from the NBCU catalog as well as access to a number of APIs. Comcast, for example, offered up an API tied to the X1 video experience.

In addition to Thumbnail, the winners from different categories included: Trend TV, an app for delivering short-form video based on user hashtags; Heart Throb, an app connecting a wearable heart-rate monitor to the X1 video platform; and Scenes, an app allowing media companies to release script excerpts from movies and TV shows.

Participants in the hackathon weren't only software developers. Teams also brought along writers, designers, and entrepreneurs. Macwan explained that contestants were encouraged to take advantage of multiple skill sets. "Creating content with a good design eye is very critical … so that is something that we had actively solicited, actively marketed," he said.

Caution: hackers at work.
Caution: hackers at work.

Beyond the grand prize winners, Macwan said that Comcast and NBCU have already invited several teams to come back and work with in-house experts to extend their efforts further. The goal is to move as many applications as possible into a formal product development process, with the hope that several will turn into viable commercial products down the line.

Comcast and NBCU also have plans to take their competition on the road. There are future hackathon events being scheduled now for Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Orlando, and London.

Related posts:

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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