TV Apps Aim to Channel the Flood of Online Video

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voice-over-Internet services, and accumulated a couple million customers before Skype and other services commoditized the business.

“We had to decide what else we could do with this backbone network, so we jumped into new media,” says Chang. “A lot of folks are trying to bring online content to the TV, but we haven’t seen any home runs yet. We asked, what are the things we can learn from these failures, and how can we make something more spectacular?”

Dayparting: A Sample 9× Schedule
6am-10amABC News
CBS News
The Huffington Post
The Wall Street Journal
10am-4pmBillboard Countdown
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
The Jerry Springer Show
Just for Laughs Gags
Oprah Winfrey Network
Red Bull
The View
4pm-7pmClevver Movies
Fashion TV
FOX Sports
Motor Trend
The Onion
The Travel Channel
7pm-8pmAl Jazeera Global
The Associated Press
ITN News
PBS News Hour
The Wall Street Journal
8pm-10pmAmerica’s Got Talent
Break Originals
College Humor Originals
The Fine Bros
Machinima Prime
National Geographic
The Voice
10pm-12pmAdult Swim
Comedy Central
Conan O’Brien
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
The Laugh Factor
Shut Up! Cartoons
Source: 9×

The company spent most of 2011 and 2012 in stealth mode, “trying to bring the best in online content to our audience in a way that’s fun, easy to discover, and engaging,” says Chang. It settled on the 9-channel approach, and developed a curation system that’s partly automated, and partly human curated. The company’s algorithms use 23 different attributes to scan top YouTube channels and suggest content appropriate to each time of day. Staff editors review the choices before they’re pushed out to the app. “They put the human touch to it and organize the channels based on past experience from watching TV,” says Dan Lee, 9×’s chief content officer.

There’s nothing special or scientific about the number 9, by the way—it just seemed like “the right amount of content so users don’t get overwhelmed,” Chang says. (It may not be a total coincidence that before the advent of the 500-channel cable universe, U.S. households had access to roughly the same number of broadcast channels.)

The 9× app, which is available for free in the Google Play app store, takes advantage of programming tools YouTube released in 2012 to make it easier for Android developers to show YouTube videos inside their mobile apps. When you click on a channel in the 9× lineup, you can watch it immediately in the app, or—if you have a Google TV—“beam” it to the big screen and use the app as a remote control. (Swiping up and down changes channels, and swiping left and right changes videos within a channel.)

Right now the app only shows YouTube videos, but “it won’t stop there,” Chang says. “We happen to use that because there is a lot of good content, and because YouTube already spent a lot of time on channelization.”

Channelization, for those unfamiliar with the term, is what YouTube did over the past few years when it pushed content creators to organize their videos into channels that are easy for partners like 9×9 to tap into. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which has a whopping 4.4 million subscribers and has been viewed more than 1.7 billion times, has been organized into one such channel. But Chang says 9× is already working with individual TV stations, including many in Taiwan and other parts of Asia, to get their shows into the app and let them curate their own channels. The company also plans to recruit individual content curators who could have their own channels within the app and, in theory, split future revenues from in-app advertising with the creators.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 people have installed the 9× app on their Android devices so far, according to statistics at the Google Play store. So far, the company has been relying on word of mouth to drive downloads. But Chang and Lee say they think more and more consumers will gravitate to the TV-like experience.

“People have very fragmented pieces of time during the day to use their mobile devices,” Lee says. “During that time they have to think of something to watch, find it, and then take the time to watch it. We want them to be able to just turn it on and start enjoying. It’s like the magic of TV—you turn it on and after flipping a couple of channels you are glued to it.”

Maybe we haven’t cut the cord so cleanly after all.

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