Zeebox’s original second-screen app was designed to let TV viewers follow a show, in real time, as they watched it. But with that narrow focus, the company — which has fewer than 2 million monthly active users worldwide — has not hit the mass scale it had hoped for.
Now the U.K.-based company has a new name, Beamly, and a new mission: to provide TV lovers a place to find info and jabber about their favorite shows 24-7. The app now provides personalized news and social feeds, updated continuously, and adds new features to help users find and follow other fans who share their interests.
But how can Beamly possibly compete with social bigfoots Facebook and Twitter? Beamly remains a relative small fry, and both Facebook and Twitter have boosted their energies on engaging TV fans and cutting deals with networks.
Jason Forbes, EVP and U.S. managing director, said the company’s focus on building TV communities of interest is the key difference.
“There are lots of other social platforms there,” Forbes said. “But we provide contextual relevance. If I say ‘I can’t believe so-and-so just did that,’ that doesn’t mean anything to general Twitter followers. But it does mean something on Beamly.”
The goal with the Beamly relaunch is to drive up its user base and time spent with the app. The company has had a leg up on other so-called “second screen” TV app competitors: Its investors include NBCUniversal and Viacom, which along with other networks have promoted programming through the app.
The refocusing of Beamly as an around-the-clock TV watercooler is a response to usage patterns: 65% of the app’s use is before and after the TV show, as opposed to when the TV show is actually on, according to Forbes. And about 60% of the app’s audience is female and under 35, a demo more inclined toward social interactions.
“People’s emotional engagement with TV spans the whole day,” said co-founder Ernesto Schmitt.
The new name is also less tech-centric than the original moniker: “People thought Zeebox was a German Xbox competitor,” Forbes said.
As part of the Beamly rebranding, the company has enlisted 100 pop-culture “influencers” who are hosting their own live “TV Rooms” — dedicated discussion areas on specific shows or topics — in the app to interact with users. Those are set to include Kandi Burruss, one of the stars of Bravo reality series “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” and YouTube personalities Tyler Oakley and Kalel Cullen.
Other real-time interactive features, synced to TV, will still be a key part of Beamly, which will continue to provide games, voting and other features synced live to what’s on the TV. Those are still attractive to programmers, which crave ways to spur live tune-in. Concepts that the startup has kicked around have included Beamly TV Room communities for Oxygen shows like “Bad Girls Club,” or an “audience mood-meter” for Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live.” However, plans for those have not been settled with the networks, according to a Beamly rep.
Zeebox was founded in 2011 by Schmitt, a former EMI executive, and Anthony Rose, former CTO of BBC’s iPlayer unit. The company has about 140 employees worldwide, including 20 at its U.S. headquarters in New York. In addition to NBCU and Viacom, the company counts BSkyB among its backers.
Beamly is available via Apple’s iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad devices, Google Play for Android, on the web at beamly.com. A Windows Phone client is in the works.