Smile for the camera – and talk to your favorite celebrity. That’s what Smiletime is offering to TV fans with its new interactive video platform.
The Santa Monica startup gives viewers an immersive experience through its video player’s “smilecasts,” or livestream programming that brings together actors, fans and in-studio guests via Web and mobile devices. Viewers can “smile in” and join group chats with friends or strangers, interact directly with their favorite stars and respond to real-time polls.
“You can create emotive entertainment that’s high premium and high quality but welcomes features that the Internet brings to the table that traditional TV doesn’t bring,” said Chief Executive Alex Kruglov.
Kruglov declined to share Smiletime’s total funding to date, though he said it was a typical seed round in the millions.
The video platform currently only allows for a Facebook authentication login, a conscious choice Kruglov said so Smiletime can create a social experience where online buddies can sit on a virtual couch to catch a show. But it also lets content creators use data analytics to adapt conversations and programming in real time based on user demographics.
Smiletime has already partnered with the CW to host online fan talks for their DC Comics shows “Arrow” and “Flash.” Gaming site Twin Galaxies is also using Smiletime’s embeddable player to create a 24-hour streaming network around fanboy culture. More partners will be announced in the coming months.
The startup isn’t licensing its tech out, relying on native advertising as its primary revenue stream. Smiletime believes it can hold eyeballs because its video player allows a viewer to watch six channels at the same time. That multi-streaming feature makes it harder for someone to step away and skip an ad, Kruglov said, since another channel will most likely have programming on.
Transactions for virtual goods can also bring in revenue, Kruglov said. Fans, for example, could pay to be put on the same screen with their favorite actor and take a personalized selfie.
What’s interesting about Smiletime though is that it’s not looking to be a second screen experience.
Second screens, or content that’s simultaneously watched with a TV show through a second device (usually a smartphone or tablet), emerged as a popular way to create an enhanced viewing experience. Say a viewer liked a TV host’s dress. A second screen app could hold a fan forum on whether the dress was hot, have a direct link to its retailer and maybe offer similar looks.
The appeal of second screen experiences to brands is quite apparent.
But Smiletime intends its player to be a second primary screen. It sees the livecasts it hosts as exclusive online shows where fans can gather before or after the main event.
“The second screen is a fundamentally distracting content form,” Kruglov said. “We want a fully immersive experience.”
Smiletime investors include Miramar Digital Ventures; Allen DeBevoise, Machinima co-founder and chairman; Cliff Bleszinski, Boss Key Productions founder; Kevin Morris, Morris Yorn Entertainment Law founder and managing partner; Chip Rosenbloom, St. Louis Rams co-owner and vice-chairman; Kevin McGurn, former Shazam chief revenue officer; Harves Investment Group; and Foxhaven Asset Management.
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