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AirPlay Hopes To Merge Live TV With Mobile Phones

Posted by iMark - 2006-03-21

Startup AirPlay Network Inc. on Monday unveiled plans to launch in the fall multiplayer interactive games for mobile phones that would be synchronized with live sports and other TV programming.

AirPlayTV would enable viewers to use their cellular phones as gaming devices to, for example, choose winners and losers in reality TV programs, compete against contestants in game shows and predict plays in football games and other sporting events. The games would be tied to social networks, so a person could play with other AirPlay subscribers.

"This type of capability brings people back to live TV and engages the consumer more," Morgan Guenther, chief executive and chairman of San Francisco-based AirPlay, said. "We can give people a more immersive experience that we believe is a win for everyone in the industry."

The way Guenther sees it, carriers will benefit financially from more people using their data services longer, and program producers and networks would get a more involved audience that could be reached more effectively by advertisers. Provided consumers don't get walloped by unexpected cellular-phone fees, they get to have fun by doing more than just passively watching a program.

Julie Ask, analyst for JupiterResearch, said teenagers and young adults are using data services more on their mobile phones, particularly text messaging. Beyond messaging, participation in polls is among the biggest categories for data services. Fully, 7 percent of online mobile subscribers participate in some type of voting, according to JupiterResearch.

Carriers are also reporting significant levels of use of data services. Verizon Wireless at the end of last year said 46 percent of its customers used some type of data service, while Sprint reported 44 percent.

"There's definitely a market there, but it's a young one," Ask said.

For AirPlay to be successful, it will need to connect its service with TV programs watched by teenagers and young adults, who are most likely to use their phones for more than just voice. Programs attractive to these groups include Comedy Central, MTV and reality TV.

In addition, the AirPlay games would have to be "compelling," Ask said. "They're going to have to engage (the players)."
AirPlay, which is going after the 18 year olds to 35 year olds, is scheduled to release its first games for the start of the professional and college football seasons this fall. The games will allow players to make live game and play predictions, similar to fantasy sports games, in competing with other players for rewards and recognition, Guenther said. Competitors would receive updates of their scores and ranking against other players throughout the live TV broadcast.

The company plans to follow the sports games with other interactive games tied to award shows, such as the Oscars; reality TV programming and other forms of real-time televised entertainment.

Pricing has not been officially announced, but Guenther believes it would start at between $3.99 and $4.99 a month. Carrier charges would be separate.

Currently, AirPlay has no partners to announce among wireless carriers, program producers or sports leagues. The company, however, expects to announce carrier partners soon.

Getting carriers and program producers involved is key since the former can handle billing and preinstall AirPlay applications on phones, and the latter can help with marketing and promotion, Guenther said.

The toughest work, however, is in building the technology needed to synchronize events happening on TV with the games' interactivity.

"We need to have an experience that's bulletproof," Guenther said.

Guenther served from 2001 to 2003 as president of TiVo, where he was in charge of the companys consumer service and technology licensing businesses. AirPlay is backed by Redpoint Ventures, based in Silicon Valley; and wireless communications company Qualcomm, which have invested $4 million.

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