Showtime Syncs Up With LG Smart TVs

Showtime Networks has developed an app for LG-made Smart TVs that delivers on-screen interactive elements that sync up with the premium network’s original programming in a way that operates independent of the set-top box.

Showtime's HTML5-based SHO Sync app is the first from a programmer to deliver synced-up interactive TV via LG’s cloud-based LivePlus system, which uses audio fingerprinting technology to load up and trigger the interactive elements, such as a show-related polls, quizzes, or something from shows that can be shared via Twitter or Facebook. SHO Sync works whether the program is being viewed live, on-demand, off the DVR or from a DVD. Showtime said that the majority of its programming is time-shifted.

Because the detection occurs in the background via the HDMI connection that’s delivering the programming itself, SHO Sync does not have to be integrated with the set-top box, meaning it will work with any cable, satellite or IPTV box that is authorized to receive Showtime. Historically, that integration work has represented a major stumbling block for interactive television. The catch, of course, is that this big screen version of SHO Sync is available only to LG TVs that support its new platform.

“The content detection is in the connection,” David Preisman, Showtime’s vice president of interactive television, explained during a briefing this week in New York. “It solves a lot of problems.”

Showtime has initially rolled out SHO Sync support on LG TVs for two original series -- Dexter and Ray Donovan. The programmer plans to introduce similar ITV support for other scripted dramas, including Shameless, Nurse Jackie, Californication, Homeland, and Masters of Sex, a series that debuts in September, in the coming weeks, Preisman said. He said Showtime tries to create ten to 12 interactive SHO Sync elements per show, and strives to time out their appearance when there is a break in the on-screen action so as not to disrupt the TV viewing experience. 

Viewers must opt-in to use SHO Sync. They’ll see a prompt at the start of a program that tells them that the show is SHO Sync-enabled, and will need to click the “OK” button on the LG remote to engage with it.

Showtime soft-launched  the LG version a couple of months ago, but Thursday (August 15) marks its formal introduction. Showtime launched a second-screen version of SHO Sync for the iPad last fall.

Showtime hasn’t released how many consumer have downloaded its iPad app so far, but “we’re pleased with the results,” Preisman said, noting that Showtime has generally seen opt-in rates of 10% or more for its interactive features.

Because Showtime is a premium channel, it doesn't sell advertising and won't use SHO Sync to deliver advertising messages. The primary goal of the SHO Sync, Preisman said, is to boost viewer engagement with Showtime programming.

LG also wouldn’t say how many of its TVs can use SHO Sync. However, the TV-side LivePlus client software runs on all 2012 LG-made Smart TV models, and will be baked into coming 2013 models, Wendell Wenjen, director of advanced and interactive TV for LG’s Smart TV Innovation Team, said.

Wenjen said other programmers will be introducing similar ITV features via LG’s LivePlus system.