Cognitive Interacts With LG’s Smart TVs

LG Electronics is the first TV maker to integrate a cloud-based, enhanced television system from Cognitive Networks, a startup founded in 2008 that is now helmed by cable vet Michael Collette.

Cognitive’s baseline “Engage” system, formally launched Wednesday, relies on audio content recognition (ACR) technology to monitor what consumers are viewing on TV and to trigger and serve up interactive elements, such as a poll, quiz or a redeemable coupon. Cognitive is pitching its platform, which serves HTML5-based content from the cloud in conjunction with a software client embedded in the television, to bring TV-based interactivity to a broad range of content, including scripted shows, movies and advertising.

LG is already using Cognitive’s platform in 2013 and 2012 Smart TV models to help the CE giant support “SHO Sync,” an app from Showtime Networks that delivers interactive features that sync up with live, on-demand or DVR-recorded versions of original series such as Dexter and Ray Donovan (pictured above). Among other real world examples, Cognitive has also customized a show-reminder app developed by Visible World for the National Geographic Channel. 

Collette said Cognitive made a conscious effort to focus on smart TVs rather than second-screen, companion apps, a strategy that would put the company in direct competition with Flingo, which is targeting its Samba platform to both TV screens and mobile devices. Collette believes Cognitive's TV-centric approach gives the comapany an advantage, because its system is video-based and embedded in the TV, essentially making it an “always-on application” that runs in the background,  rather than one that has to be turned on manually.

Although ACR is not yet widely adopted by TV makers, Collette is confident that the top six TV manufactures will support ACR next year in new models or by adding the feature in older models by implementing firmware upgrades.  He also expects Cognitive to conduct demos with two more TV manufactures at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2014.

Cognitive has held discussions with MVPDs, but has no near-term plans to integrate with set-top boxes. Working directly with TV makers offers the company the path of least resistance, or the greatest promise, depending on one’s point of view.

“Cable, historically, has been somewhat protective of their relationship with the subscriber,” said Collette, the former CEO of PhyFlex Networks (now part of Ciena) and the ex-CEO of Ucentric Systems (sold to Motorola in 2005). “That constrains what can be done. TV manufactures don’t have subscribers.”

San Francisco-based Cognitive has 12 full-time employees. It has raised about $6 million, including $2.5 million that came way of the venture-capital arm of Rogers Communications.

Cognitive currently has 10 paying customers, and expects to expand that to 30 to 40 by the end of the year, according to Collette.