Starz Summons iPad App for 'Da Vinci's Demons'

The Starz debut of Da Vinci's Demons on Friday will tow a big second screen component in the form of a companion app that uses audio cues to sync interactive content with the show whether it's being viewed on the Starz live linear channel, accessed via an operator's VOD service, streamed from Starz Play, or played back on a DVR.

Starz launched the "Citizens of Florence" app at the Apple App Store today to get viewers primed for the series premiere on Friday, April 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Future episodes of Da Vinci's Demons will debut Fridays on Starz at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The fantasy drama, created by Dark Knight Trilogy co-writer David Goyer and starring Tom Riley, follows the "secret history" of Leonardo da Vinci during the prolific inventor's youth years in Renaissance Florence.

The free app, compatible with the iPad 2 and iPad Mini (operating system of 5.1 and up), will trigger interactive content using in-app, audio fingerprinting technology developed by Germany-based firm muffin.   When triggered by specific dialogue in the show, those audio points will unlock on the order of six to 11 items per episode that are hard-coded into the tablet application, said Alex Sanger, the SVP of interactive at And Company, which co-developed the app with Starz.  Friday's premiere will mark the first time mufin's technology is being used for U.S. television, according to Starz.

Having the content baked into the app itself means the iPad won't be required to send signals upstream to remote servers and then wait for the interactive piece to boomerang back to the device.

Starz went in that direction in part because mufin's in-app approach supports fast response times, maintains a high level of accuracy, and sidesteps the variability of video signals, said Starz senior vice president of marketing Kelly Bumann.

The app itself will present elements of history and artifacts associated with the show, with each episode featuring one of da Vinci's inventions.  In addition to the relatively passive syncing component, the app also includes more active elements that will let viewers take a deeper dive into the series and take a virtual, interactive tour of the city of Florence, check out extras such as deleted scenes, preview the next episode, and solve puzzles that unlock more detail about a featured da Vinci invention.

The resources that Starz has plowed into the to the show-enhancing app (Bumann said Starz made a "significant investment" in the effort)  reflect a trend in which programmers are starting to use content-rich second screen apps to boost engagement as viewers watch the shows and also give them a way dig deeper as the season progresses. And rather than recycling content that's on the Web, Starz is placing a special emphasis on content that's offered only on the app, which will feature more than 80 show elements, including 360-degree views of da Vinci's inventions.

"Most of this is to drive engagement with the show," Bumann said. "There's a lot of unique, exclusive content delivered through this experience."

Early on, Starz, which has 21 million subscribers, will determine the success of the app based on how many times it's downloaded, she added, noting that Starz is also exploring how to extend the life of the app beyond its premium window, including support for the series' eventual release on DVD and Blu-ray.

Although the iPad will serve as the vessel for the app's maiden voyage, Starz is also considering development for other platforms, including Android  and SmartGlass, a new second-screen environment for the Xbox 360 console.