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Peel Smart Remote App Adds Netflix & Hulu to Mix Live TV with Streaming (Exclusive)

TV remote control app maker Peel has started to add streaming providers to the latest version of its Android app, allowing consumers to more seamlessly jump back and forth between live television and online video. The latest version of the Peel Smart Remote app includes content from Netflix and Hulu as well as a selection of YouTube clips, and Peel co-founder and CEO Thiru Arunachalam told Variety that the company plans to add more than 20 streaming services in the near future.

Peel has been working closely with mobile phone makers like Samsung and HTC, getting them to add infrared sensors capable of interacting with TV sets and other living room devices to their handsets, and then bundling its app as a software-based remote control. For years, Peel’s app focused on live television, allowing users to change channels on their cable boxes or TV sets from their phone, complete with a guide that suggests movies and shows. That’s been working really well for the company, which now has more than 130 million registered users, who have thus far tuned into more than 6.6 billion TV shows and movies with the app.

But with the TV space rapidly evolving, the Peel team felt it was time to also integrate streaming providers. “Eventually, everything will be streaming,” said Arunachalam, adding that Peel wants to be as agnostic as possible about content providers. The goal was to let users switch back and forth between content sources without having to worry whether something is streaming or shown on linear TV, he explained.

Peel isn’t quite there just yet; a beta version of the new app previewed by Variety did mix streaming and TV content, allowing users to either tune into a show live on TV, or check whether a previous episode is available for streaming. There is also a dedicated streaming section to explore shows on Netflix and Hulu as well as movie trailers from YouTube.

Upon selecting a streaming source, the Peel app would launch either the Netflix or Hulu app on the mobile device, which then allow users to cast content to their TV set, provided they’re using a Chromecast streaming adapter or any other streaming device that offers similar functionality. It’s one extra step that the company eventually wants to get rid of. The goal is to directly connect Peel’s app to streaming apps on devices like Roku and Apple TV, explained the company’s head of marketing James Ryan.

Getting these transitions to work seamlessly is not just a technical challenge, it’s also all about politics. TV service providers long wanted to keep users glued to their platform, and initially viewed Peel as a competitor. Many have since warmed up to the company, realizing that Peel’s app often gets more usage than their own remote control apps, said Arunachalam: “Things are turning around.”

But TV providers aren’t the only ones who are protective of their platforms. Streaming services like Netflix also would like to keep their customers within their own apps. “This is a tough space to crack,” admitted Arunachalam.

However, Arunachalam believes that both streaming and traditional TV can benefit from giving users an easier remote control experience. Hollywood in particular is starting to embrace this idea. To monetize its app, Peel has been working with TV networks who want to have their shows promoted to the company’s users.

Peel does so with banners within its app, and also sends users reminders about their shows right before they air, offering to tune in with one click. That’s apparently been working really well: Arunachalam said that the app can bump up Nielsen ratings of late-night talk shows like “Conan” by up to 16 percent. And after a show is over, Peel can go back to the network and report which viewers have tuned in from where.

Those numbers should make anyone pay attention, whether they are coming from the world of streaming or linear TV.

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