Yahoo is sending a message to major broadcast and cable networks when it comes to the Web/TV convergence: We are your friend.
The struggling, Sunnyvale, Calif.–based Web giant is piling up an impressive list of partners for its two-year-old Connected TV service—including ABC, CBS, Showtime and HSN (all of which have either built or are developing Web TV apps in 2011). Now Yahoo is rolling out a pilot program with three television partners and three big advertisers called "broadcast interactivity," which promises to bring Web-enabled TV to another level.
Over the next six months, CBS, HSN and ABC will begin testing new features aimed at making TV viewing more interactive. Though details are still being worked out, for example, during a Showtime boxing broadcast, Yahoo Connected TV users would theoretically be able to access statistics and information on the participating fighters, and bet on eventual winners with other viewers.
Or in the case of CBS, viewers of crime drama Hawaii Five-O might be able to research the show’s actors or answer questions relevant to the program.
Advertiser-wise, Yahoo has lined up Ford, Mattel and Microsoft to develop enhanced ad campaigns for the pilot program. During a Ford commercial, for instance, viewers might be prompted to look up local car dealers or research custom models via their remote control.
Yahoo is using this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to showcase this new pilot test—and to draw a clear distinction between its Connected TV platform and Google TV. Unlike Google TV, which promises to bring the entire Internet to a user’s television screen, Yahoo Connected TV offers a TV-optimized version of the Web built around apps.
Connected TV software has been built in to TVs manufactured by Sony, Samsung, LG, Toshiba and others. Russ Schafer, senior director of marketing of Connected TV, said there are currently 6 million Yahoo Connected TVs in the market, and 8 million will be in use by March.
“You don’t have to do anything to use this product,” said Schafer. “That is a big difference between this and other products on the market. You get full-featured versions of Web sites, but you don’t have to have a keyboard or a mouse.”
Since Yahoo Connected TV doesn’t employ a Web browser, users cannot access Hulu.com or network sites like CBS.com and NBC.com. So users streaming shows via their TVs—something that has caused clashes between networks and Google—isn’t an issue. Instead, Connected TV users can pay for shows via an Amazon app.
Connected TV is more about enhancing television than displacing it. It’s that approach that Schafer argues has helped Yahoo partner with rather than antagonize broadcasters. “This product is not a TV replacement play,” he said. “We don't think that is what people want. You are in a completely different mind-set when you watch TV, and simplicity is king.”