Showtime and LG Think They’ve Cracked Code on Interactive TV

Premium cabler syncs up show extras for 'Dexter,' 'Ray Donovan' and other originals on LG smart TVs using web-based technology

After years of running down interactive TV dead-ends, CBS’s Showtime Networks is trying a new approach that finally might gain traction: It’s syncing up interactive elements for shows directly on LG Electronics’ smart TVs using standard web-based technologies.

Premium cabler is the first programmer to use LG’s LivePlus technology, available on the manufacturer’s 2012 and 2013 Internet-connected TV models, to deliver on-screen trivia, polls and social features for original series including “Dexter” and “Ray Donovan.”

Showtime already makes that ancillary content available through the SHO Sync app for Apple iPads, released last fall — but the experience is superior on LG’s TVs, because the interactive features pop up in the program itself without any separate download or device required, according to David Preisman, Showtime’s veep of interactive television.

“We believe it could be a game-changer in terms of what clicks with consumers on a smart TV set,” he said.

Of course, out of the gate, only a very small number of Showtime viewers are likely to have compatible LG sets to be able to access the ITV features. Companies declined to provide estimates on how many LG TVs currently in use support LivePlus.

“Is the footprint on Day 1 going to get everyone thrilled? No, this is just rolling out,” Preisman acknowledged. “But I think we’re going to pretty quickly get to scale,” he added, as more TV manufacturers adopt support for HTML5 and JavaScript, which are two standard technologies employed by LG’s LivePlus.

But it’s an open question how fast — and how uniformly — CE biz will adopt web technologies. Meanwhile most people still just want to watch TV, without stuff cluttering up the screen.

The opt-in rate for connected TV interactivity — on the “first screen” — averages more than 10%, versus low single-digits for second-screen apps, according to Preisman.

For Showtime, the business case for ITV is to keep fans engaged in the programming so they watch longer — and, ideally, to keep paying for the service. Cabler has developed interactive content for more than 200 episodes, including the latest seasons of “Dexter” and “Ray Donovan.” Programmer expects to expand that over the next few months to include “Homeland,” “Shameless,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Californication,” “Episodes” and “Masters of Sex,” new series that bows in September.

LG’s LivePlus recognizes a Showtime original series episode as SHO Sync-enabled using a video-based fingerprint-matching technique. At that point, a prompt lets a viewer play along with the ep using the LG remote, and also share synchronized content to Twitter and Facebook. The LivePlus technology works across live, DVR, DVD and video-on-demand formats.

The web-centric approach is a far cry from the interactive TV technologies from the cable industry, which were hampered by stunted color palettes and were difficult to deliver to set-top boxes, according to Preisman. LG LivePlus provides full 24-bit color with 16 million colors, high-end fonts and smooth animation effects.

“We’re finally at the point where this technology is ready for primetime,” Preisman said. “This makes it feel like it’s part of the show.”

Showtime and LG have been working on the project for more than a year, and both said they’re looking to work with others on ITV deployments.

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