Dijit/NextGuide Gives TV Networks a Reminder Widget

In TV land, there’s a big gap between seeing, saying, and doing. You see an ad, a Web page, or a Facebook post about a new show that looks cool. You say to yourself you’re interested and you want to watch the premiere. But you don’t know when it’s scheduled to air, or you forget to program your DVR to record it, so when the show is actually broadcast, you miss it.

In other words, the call-to-action in the original ad—“Hey, watch our new show!”—is ineffective, since it doesn’t connect to other parts of your routine. That’s a big loss for the networks that spend so much to make new shows. And it’s a problem Dijit Media aims to prevent with its new “Remind Me to Watch” feature.

Without fanfare, the “Remind Me to Watch” widget—an embeddable snippet of HTML code, similar to the Facebook Like button—started appearing on the websites of BBC America, Fox, and truTV back in August. Now San Francisco-based Dijit, which operates the NextGuide TV guide app for iOS devices, is going public about the program, which is reportedly coming soon to eight more cable company websites, as well as banner ads and social-media pages.

If you click on the blue “Remind Me” widget at a page like this one, it lets you sign up to receive a reminder via e-mail or Facebook 30 minutes before a given show starts—so, in theory, no more forgotten shows. Internet TV providers like Netflix or Hulu could also use the service to remind viewers when shows they’re interested in become available for streaming.

The reminder service is free for both TV viewers and the networks. Dijit plans to make money later by putting ads for related shows into the reminder e-mails.

It’s believed to be the first time all TV providers have had access to a centralized reminder service. “We are the alarm clock for TV, and the Switzerland layer,” says Jeremy Toeman, CEO of Dijit. “We are not in the pocket of any broadcaster, streaming provider, or cable company.”

Like many of the best technology ideas, “Remind Me to Watch” started off with a simple observation. “My wife watches Downton Abbey, and she had no idea when season 3 was coming,” says Toeman. “I said I didn’t know, and she said, ‘You should know, you do that for a living!’” (In fact, Mrs. Toeman wasn’t even aware that Amazon had stolen the streaming version of the BBC/PBS co-production away from from Netflix and Hulu.)

Toeman began to wonder whether the reminder function already built into Dijit’s NextGuide app—which allows app users to follow specific shows and get e-mails when new episodes are about to appear—might work outside the context of the app itself. The idea finally took full shape when Toeman spoke with a former colleague at one of the TV networks, who explained that it’s standard procedure to start running banner ads for a new show one to four months before its premiere. Such ads often link to a Web page with local schedule information, but those pages don’t have a reminder function.

“I said, ‘We have built reminders and notifications. I think we can actually give you some technology that would help with that.’ And she said, ‘I think we would be very interested.’ Four months later we had a working demo.”

A promotion for the BBC America show "Orphan Black" includes the Dijit "Remind Me" button in the lower right.

A promotion for the BBC America show “Orphan Black” includes the Dijit “Remind Me” button in the lower right.

Networks like the “Remind Me to Watch” button because their biggest challenge is recruiting audiences to watch their shows, Toeman says. If a show doesn’t connect with millions of viewers fast, it’s likely to be canceled mid-season, which is an expensive waste for everyone concerned. Networks will try everything they can—even partnering with relatively small, unknown startups like Dijit—to improve their chances.

Dijit started out in 2010 making a remote-control and programming guide app, Dijit Remote, that connected with a television via an infrared base station called the Beacon. “One of the things we noticed very quickly was that we were getting far more downloads [of Dijit Remote] than anybody was buying Beacons,” Toeman says. “We realized these were people who were really liking the TV guide features. Hence working on the NextGuide app, which took the TV guide concept up a notch.”

In NextGuide, you can search for shows, add them to your watch lists, and sign up for alerts when those shows are about to air. “Once we did that, it was a very simple twist of logic to take the technology and make it work in a more embedded, distributed fashion rather than just inside our app,” Toeman says.

“The big surprise is that we are not actually a B2C [consumer] company,” Toeman says. “We actually make tools for TV producers, movie studios, and entertainment websites to help them drive audiences to their content.”

Toeman expects a bandwagon effect to develop, as more and more networks see the “Remind Me to Watch” button on their competitors’ websites and realize that it’s “as easy to add as a Facebook Like button,” in his words. There are already plans to upgrade the reminder widget to allow people to request SMS text messages instead of e-mails, and to let them customize the timing of the alerts—to two days before a show airs, for example, or two hours.

But first Dijit needs to prove that its system can handle hundreds of thousands of users, all setting multiple alarms. “We can test it, but at the end of the day, when there is a new episode of Modern Family, people who expect to get reminders better get their reminders,” Toeman says.

The percentage of people who actually open Dijit’s reminder e-mails varies from the high 30s to the mid-50s, Toeman says. Those are astronomical rates for TV-related content. “I’ve never seen anything like it—it just shows how much people want to see those shows,” Toeman says.

The e-mails will be a good place to sell ads for shows that are thematically related to those that are about to air, he hopes. “If Network A is building a new show and they really want to reach out to fans of Show B, today they can’t do that,” Toeman says. “We provide some great tools. We have the exact audience measurements for who wants to watch what.”

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

Trending on Xconomy