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Solving TV search: Boxfish hops on the television discovery bandwagon

boxfishThe television content model is a mess. Cable is too expensive and doesn’t offer an iota of customization; streaming services are constantly losing access to TV show and movie rights; and introducing Internet TV to consumers is proving as maddening as trying to capture water running from a faucet.

It’s frustrating for buyers, but it’s inspiring for innovators. Here we have ourselves a problem (problems, really) that technology will eventually fix. So the space is ripe for exploration and begging for answers, and one of the most quantifiable tangles is search. As it stands, fragmentation and the iffy connected TV timeline has made content search for television content fraught with hang-ups. New startup Boxfish has targeted this hitch specifically: “Basically, we see it as a first run at a simple search engine for television,” CEO and cofounder Eoin Dowling tells us.

Dowling and cofounder Kevin Burkitt, both from Ireland, formerly ran a voice recognition ring tone service which they sold in 2008. Since then they bounced around ideas before landing on Boxfish, which has been in motion since January 2011. “We’ve been in the dark until about a few days ago,” Dowling says. “We took the wall down slowly and cautiously.”

Boxfish is, more or less, creating its own real-time television content database by capturing every word on air. The patents-pending system uses servers in the UK, US, and Ireland that absorb the stream of content and as Dowling puts it “chops it up” and turns it into something we can use for search and discovery.

Right now when you log on to Boxfish, you’re able to search and discover any word said on television – but then what? “We’re in this kind of public-private, alpha-beta mode to find what people are looking for,” says Dowling. He says the team initially thought the US elections would be a natural draw for this type of application, but it turns out the lowest common denominator always wins. “We found out what people were searching for was Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga.”

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in his opinion – instead he sees it as giving Boxfish some real estate in the real-time space, which Twitter has a firm grip on.

boxfish trayvonOf course the long term goal isn’t to simply serve as the Twitter of TV content. “There is a frustrated relationship between people and television at the moment,” Dowling says. “’There’s nothing on TV’ is a mantra. There’s too much crap on television. We just want to be a discovery layer for television.” Eventually you would be able to use this service to set alerts (every time President Obama is mentioned on TV, you’d get an alert for instance) and direct you toward the material of your choosing.

Dowling says the big vision is that Boxfish would be a mobile app, a connected TV app, something tuned into your TV (whether that be a box top device, a smart TV, or good old-fashioned cable) to help you manage and interpret the airwaves. He says Boxfish has already spoken with Direct TV and AT&T Universe about the technology.

Boxfish is edging closer toward an official launch as it fine-tunes the product. Long term, Dowling says the team would like to open the API so that anyone could build apps based on Boxfish’s technology. “We don’t have the bandwidth to tackle what we know other people can do,” he says. “We want to be a utility.”

This is starting to sound familiar. Earlier this month at SXSW, I spoke with RUWT’s CEO and founder Mark Phillip, who envisions the currently sports-focused app as eventually transitioning as a means to power TV search and discovery.  He expressed interest in being the technology that powers this function, not necessarily pitching RUWT as a brand name network of sorts.

And while it’s obviously a far more niche product, sports app alert system Thuuz is also exploring this market with its interest gauging and rating technology. It also points you in the direction of where to watch the content in question. Jinni, another content search application which calls itself a “taste engine,” finds viewing options for you by plot, title, actors, and even mood. It searches its “large catalog database that covers all current TV series and movies,” a rep tells us, and that includes real-time content. 

It’s an encouraging sign for these companies as well as for users: the wheels are turning and we can expect the TV screen experience to become millions of times more digestible. It should also serve as yet another clue for rights-holders, streaming services, and manufacturers to tighten things up. The rest of us are more than ready.