Zelfy Pitches Cable on Revamping the Remote
Zelfy sees two key issues: the need to revamp the user interface and the need to minimize the number of devices consumers use. Zelfy's answer to both is the mobile phone -- or essentially any device with a touchpad and a WiFi connection. All the time spent putting interactivity into the TV is misguided, Beale says, because it should be on the phone. (See To Xfinity... & Beyond!)
Pitching a panel of cable-operator heads of strategy, Beale outlined how Zelfy's service controls the entire entertainment experience; sports a user-friendly, content-driven user interface that's source agnostic; is fully customizable to the operator; and takes advantage of a nearly ubiquitous consumer device.
"One of the big problems that network operators face is the discontinuity of their networks," Beale says. "You have set-top boxes that are 20 years old and some you deployed yesterday. For $20 per home, you can create a ubiquitous experience that you control."
Zelfy's software draws on the cloud to bring together all of a user's content, personalized to the operator and that user. The interface controls all the devices in his or her entertainment center and, through the WiFi connection, can enable new functions as well, according to Beale. A recommendation engine also draws on social networks to suggest content.
"Consumers don't care what the source is," Beale contends. "They just want their content.".
It's a powerful proposition, but in a perfect world, Beale says, it would include relationships with all the network operators in order to gain access to the information on users' DVRs.
Mimi Thigpen, senior vice president of strategy at Cox Communications Inc. , admitted that it's an important problem that Zefly is trying to solve. But she said Cox's research shows that it's more important to improve the viewing experience and navigation on the TV set itself, rather than to have users worry about looking down at their remotes [ed. note: danger of whiplash there]. Cox is tapping middleware provider NDS Ltd. to address the TV user interface. (See Cox Extends NDS Services Contract and SeaChange’s Changes Come in Waves .) Beale noted that both a great on-screen UI and remote UI are important.
Asked by Thigpen how the service would work in a household with multiple TV sources, Beale said Zelfy is targeting homes that draw on several sources of video, including over-the-top players like the Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) Roku or Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) Apple TV.
"This will be a better method of navigation and a good way to get your arms around that without having to change your on-screen UI in millions of boxes," Beale argued to the cable providers.
The panel, held Wednesday, gave cable companies' heads of strategy a chance to grill some startups on their viability as cable partners or providers. Several of the startups pitched a combination of hardware and software but said that if an operator bites, nothing's off the table.
For instance, Michael Lee, chief strategy officer at Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), asked what happens if Apple adds the technology to its products to render Zefly's hardware obsolete. "Then we are an app, and we're happy to be an app," Beale replied.
Today, the Zefly service requires a mobile phone, a device that Zelfy calls a "fruit," and a hub that plugs into the user's router. The bundle of hardware runs around $20. The company supports the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android devices, BlackBerry, and its own custom handheld device.
The cable execs also heard pitches from Related Content Database Inc. (RCDb) , EnergyHub Inc. , and SupportSpace Ltd. (See RCDb’s Web TV Coming-Out Party.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile