The war for control of the TV screen, specifically the battle over which company or companies will own the user interface—and by default, the relationship with the average viewer—has only just begun. Whether the ultimate winner is a cable company, a TV manufacturer, Apple, Amazon, Xbox, Hulu, Roku or somebody else, pretty much everyone agrees that TV is getting messy.
Indeed, anybody who’s spent time jumping between linear TV, a DVR, a cable company's on-demand menu, a Netflix account, a Hulu Plus subscription and a gaming console—hooking up and unhooking HDMI cables along the way—can attest that if somebody can simplify the TV experience, they’d have a great shot at winning its future. A startup called Matcha thinks it has a pretty good shot.
The company built an iPad app designed to serve as the ultimate TV companion. Through a growing slate of partnerships, Matcha allows users to sift through all the TV shows they might have at their disposal in one screen. It also offers a recommendation engine, social TV elements, and supplementary content from the likes of IMDB and RottenTomatoes.com.
Matcha has already partnered with Netflix, iTunes, Hulu and Comcast’s Xfinity to provide users with access to 200,000 movie and TV titles they can elect to watch on the big screen or in some cases within the app itself. And now the company is set to announce similar pacts with HBO Go, Max Go (Cinemax), as well as Turner (apps for TNT and TBS).
The plan is to partner with every important network and cable player under the sun, said Guy Piekarz, Matcha’s founder and CEO, who is betting on a future where apps rule TV. “The old way of discovery is not good. As the market matures the problem is increasing. So we’ve started first with the ‘over the top’ services like Hulu Plus and networks like Xfinity,” he said. “But the idea is that people will be able to use the app and access content no matter what the source. Being comprehensive for us is a big deal."
Matcha's not there yet. So that means negotiating similar deals with the NBC Universals and Foxes of the world, something Piekarz says the startup is working on. Matcha also wants to work with the likes of Time Warner (currently not a partner), though MSOs may be less central to the viewing experience down the road—or at least that’s what Matcha is banking on. According to Piekarz, “in five to 10 years there will probably be no set-top boxes, and the DVR will die.” In its place, users will be able to call up whatever show they want from their cable or over-the-top providers's massive databases.
That's a big if. But given the potential vastness of choice in such a future, consumers are going to need some help. Which is where Matcha comes in. Have no idea when Breaking Bad actually airs? Matcha will let you know when you’ve got new episodes to watch. And so on.
Sounds impressive. But Matcha’s entering an increasingly competitive and crowded space. Tons of cable networks like Bravo are launching their own social TV apps. There are upstarts like Yap.tv. Based on an announcement last week, Nintendo is looking to anchor the digital living room with the soon-to-be-released Wii U. And of course, Apple, Facebook and Twitter would love to get in on the action (Matcha does allow users to integrate with Facebook and Twitter, so you can see which shows your friends recommend).
“Everyone wants control of the TV,” said Piekarz. “But nobody has it all yet.”