Integra5 Wants to be MediaFriends With You

Woburn, MA-based Integra5 announced today that it has changed its name to MediaFriends, a move intended to underscore the startup’s focus on technology that lets people communicate across multiple devices, including phones, PCs, and televisions.

Under the Integra5 brand, the 10-year-old company was known mainly as a supplier of “converged services” software to cable, phone, and wireless operators—think cell-phone text messages that show up on PCs, or Caller ID information for incoming land-line calls that’s displayed on a TV or a cell phone. Its specialty was devising software that bridged the traditional gaps between the infrastructures that deliver data to land-line phones, cell phones, PCs, and TVs.

The new name, MediaFriends, reflects the company’s move toward technologies that allow two-way or multi-way commmunications alongside video content. It’s the same name the company has been using since August 2008 for its latest package of social media applications, including one that lets TV viewers see the SMS and instant-messaging conversations they are having with friends on the same TV screen with network programming.

“The name Integra5 was meant to refer to the integration of lots of services, or taking the flat plane and moving it to the fifth dimension, but to be honest with you it doesn’t properly reflect our focus around communities that are using multiple devices,” CEO Meredith Flynn-Ripley told me last week.

MediaFriends TV chat system screen shotMediaFriends is pitching the TV chat technology as a way for cable, phone, and Internet companies to cater to the media habits of younger viewers, who—as any parent of teenagers will attest—are often using their cell phones or laptops to chat with their friends via SMS or instant message while they’re watching “Lost,” “American Idol,” or “The Simpsons.” The MediaFriends system, which Flynn-Ripley demonstrated for me at the company’s office in Woburn, puts a stream of messages on the same screen with a TV show, with the goal of making such conversations simpler to manage.

At a time when subscription-based video providers are worried about audiences migrating to free Internet video sources such as Hulu, adding the MediaFriends technology could be seen as a way to retain customers. In fact, the first paying customer for the MediaFriends TV chat technology is about to go live with the service, and a second company is installing it now, Flynn-Ripley says. (She said she couldn’t yet name the companies.)

“Communications is what drives technology adoption, and today people are fundamentally communicating differently, based on a generational divide,” says Flynn-Ripley, who joined the company in 2006. “SMS is a huge phenomenon that isn’t going away. If you are in the business of delivering communications services, you had better be aware of this, and meet the needs of this growing group of consumers.”

MediaFriends has engineering operations in Israel and is backed by Benchmark Capital, which has offices in both Menlo Park, CA, and Herzeliya, Israel. Gary Lauder, the founder of a Los Gatos, CA, interactive TV company called ICTV, is also an investor.

MediaFriends added cross-media chat capabilities to its existing platform when it saw how prevalent texting-while-watching was becoming among younger TV viewers, Flynn-Ripley says. She cites research by youth marketing company Ypulse showing that 78 percent of teens and “tweens” (8- to 12-year-olds) say they’re often using a computer while they’re in front of the television. About 66 percent say they’re sending SMS text messages while watching.

Media analysts argue over whether this form of multitasking is a good thing, and whether it poses a threat to traditional media revenue models. In an “ADD culture,” to use a term coined by Interbrand CEO Andy Batement, brand experiences are greatly attenuated, since … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “Integra5 Wants to be MediaFriends With You”

  1. Hey Wade, Glad you picked up on Media Friends. Great name change….Integra5 was always opaque to me. Meredith is a terrific leader and this decision is just one of thousands she ably shepherds.

    With three sons ages 14-20 I can definitely see the market opportunity for MediaFriends. We had an early edge on seeing this when we lived in Ireland 2001 to 2005 where SMS and mobile comms were so far ahead of the US. Everyone has a phone…bottom line, and figuring out its boundaries is a great application of entrepreneurial energy.

    I do share the concern about this generation’s ability to focus, think creatively etc. while they constantly navigate multiple technologies. But so far they (my sons, their friends) seem to be able to cover it all: big ideas, concentrated effort, and pinging their friends continuously at other times. I do wonder if their brains are just growing differently.