As everyone who owns an iPad, Kindle Fire or similar mobile device is already far too aware, it’s very easy to find yourself accidentally multitasking while sitting in front of the television on any given evening. Whether it’s looking up just where you’ve seen that particular actor before or Wikipedia-ing the backstory of the series you’ve just started watching, there’s something about the lack of commitment that a mobile device presents that just seems amazingly alluring when you’re pretending to pay attention to what’s on the screen in front of you – and that’s not gone unnoticed by those involved in the television industry.
Comcast subsidiary NBC Universal, in fact, has decided to become an active participant in the crossover between mobile and television, by investing in zeebox, a British company that has created what it describes as “your TV sidekick.” Available as a free download for iOS, Android and the Internet, the zeebox app “helps you discover, connect, share and interact – all live as you watch,” according to the company’s website, which also describes the app as “like a quiet, cool, incredibly well-connected companion right there on the sofa next to you.”
The app offers information on the show you’re watching, as well as providing links to buy content or products associated with the particular show (For example, NBC’s The Voice will be accompanied by links to iTunes where fans can purchase individual songs performed). The thinking is, instead of making the viewer have to do the legwork of Googling or Wikipedia-ing the information for themselves – something that might mean that they start paying less attention to the show themselves – zeebox brings everything together in one easy-to-access place that offers even more, thereby increasing the viewer’s connection to the show. Zeebox, the company explains, “doesn’t replace your television, it enhances it.”
Details of the deal between zeebox and NBC Universal – such as the size of the stake the latter is putting into the former – remain private at this time, but the cable company has said that details on how NBC and its family of channels will integrate its shows with the app, and what special features fans of NBC’s programming should expect, will start appearing over the next month or so (Is it too much to hope for virtual therapy groups to help us deal with Matthew Perry’s new sitcom Go On?). NBC Universal isn’t the only family of television channels that will be creating all original content to appear on zeebox; HBO is expected to be debuting its own zeebox offerings around the same time, although it is not following NBC’s lead and buying a stake in the company. It remains to be seen whether or not other networks will follow the lead of these two big names.