Next Up for ClipSync’s Social TV Interface: Compelling Interactive Ads

“2010 is going to be a big year for social TV,” ClipSync CEO Itzik Cohen believes, and he was exceptionally bullish about one of the enhancements his company hopes to debut by the end of the first quarter: Interactive ads that encourage users to participate, play games, and interact with friends and other users, rather than watching (and ignoring) a typical 30-second ad spot.

ClipSync, which describes itself as the only company with its type of technology for making TV viewing a social event, provides the back-end infrastructure for video content streamed by its partners — CBS, EpixHD, MySpace, Showtime, and — with the partners handling the design of the interface while ClipSync’s technology powers social elements. Cohen said ClipSync’s features are targeted toward the kinds of fans he refers to as “passionistas.”

Features enabled by ClipSync include chat, but in the form of a bubble chat located at the bottom of the screen, just under the video, so users can view both without being distracted from the content. ClipSync also provides trivia contests and polls that appear on the side, and its technology offers what Cohen calls “a graduated mode of interaction,” letting users interact as little or as much as they prefer — they can do as little as simply watching the video content to as much as chatting, partaking in trivia contests (Cohen said each user answers an average of six trivia questions per show), throwing virtual tomatoes at the content or at other users, and creating private groups where they are only interacting with their friends.

Friends are invited in via Facebook Connect, Twitter, or AIM. As for the private rooms, Cohen said that the first time the feature was implemented — for Showtime’s Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful special — 2,000 private rooms were created. On the subject of the Bon Jovi special, Cohen added that the premium cable network only promoted the ClipSync-powered social aspects to 20,000 people via email, yet when a countdown block started four hours before the special, 4,000 users were already watching, waiting, and interacting with each other. Viewers of Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful using ClipSync’s technology were also able to add concert-like elements to their interactivity, such as lighters, devil horns, and kisses for the band members.

Cohen added that session times per user have increased by 25 percent, which encouraged CBS to begin selling post-roll advertising, as more users were remaining after the end of the show to continue interacting. And he pointed out that in the case of EpixHD, ClipSync’s technology allows the video content to be viewed in up to 720p HD, but also enables automatic dynamically reduced bandwidth to allow uninterrupted viewing in the case of bandwidth reduction. And while the EpixHD content is generally only available to subscribers, up to four nonsubscribers per movie viewing can be invited to watch via the ClipSync interface.

Some of the features in the new interactive advertising the company will be rolling out include ads becoming multiplayer games, such as jigsaw puzzles or “spot the difference” games, which encourage users to compete with each other and see who can place the most pieces or spot the most differences between seemingly identical photographs and finish atop the leader board. These ads even encourage users to play again, further exposing them to the company’s branding, before returning to the video content.

Other examples of branding within ClipSync’s interactive elements include Bertoli Italian Foods sponsoring the virtual tomatoes that are thrown at the content and at other users, so that instead of hearing a squishing sound, users hear “Bertoli!” and Pepsi sponsoring virtual cans that can be “thrown” at the screen.

Also in the pipeline for ClipSync: applications for the iPhone and Android handsets.

Prior to founding ClipSync, Cohen was centrally involved with funding and the initial public offering at Web-meeting company WebEx Communications, which was acquired by Cisco Systems. Chief technology officer Sam Baron had been director of products for Santa Cruz Networks, while vice president of sales and business development and general manager, East Coast Johnsie Garrett was involved in the formation of IAC Advertising Solutions.

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