For most apps we'd write a regular review focusing on design,
usability and content but Anthony Rose's new Social TV service,
Zeebox, has way too many features to fit that model. So instead,
here are our first impressions of the iPad app: how it innovates,
how it works and where it might need a little re-jigging.
5 Brilliant Things
1. The TV Guide
We're not usually so pithy but here there's no alternative: the
Zeebox interface is gorgeous. Once you've downloaded and run the
app, chosen your TV provider (currently limited to Freeview,
Freesat, Sky and Virgin), region and decided whether to login with
Facebook or not you're presented with a TV guide. This shows you
what's playing right now on all of the channels using your set-top
box in your area. Flick to the left or right with your finger and
you'll see what was on before and what's on next on each individual
channel. Sort by channel, popularity, what friends are watching /
commenting on and genre. The interface is clean, intuitive and
presents you with lots of options if you want to have a play.
Which, of course, we do.
2. The Programme Page
From the TV guide you choose a show by touching it and you're
into a dedicated page for that programme. And immediately there's
so much to explore here: programme information, actors /
presenters, a live Twitter feed, a News feed based on popular
newspapers, blogs and other information sources, a popularity
rating, related apps and downloads and "Live Zeetags" which
reference words and phrases used in the show and which, when
clicked, lead you to Wiki pages and further Twitter / News feeds.
It's like having Stephen Fry sitting with you in your living room
and feeding you nuggets of knowledge about what you're
3. Information on Tap
As noted above, there's a wealth of information for you to
literally tap into whilst viewing (or indeed, researching) a show.
We predict hours of fun when your partner is watching, for example,
"University Challenge" and you, because of Zeetags, can immediately
look up the answers. Zeebox is also relying on currency. How many
times have you seen something amazing on TV and made a mental note
to look it up later? With Zeebox there's no need to wait.
4. Technology, Integration, Innovation
We find the ambition and depth of Zeebox extraordinary. The app
contains data from so many sources that even if you find the
experience over / underwhelming you have to congratulate Zeebox on
its intent. At the same time Rose has done something genuinely
innovative: combining external data with deep integration to the
metadata of the show you're watching.
In plain English, every programme that appears on a VOD platform
is accompanied by metadata i.e. specific text-based information
about that show. This generally comes in two forms:
a) Shotlisting: frame-by-frame or clip-by-clip
commentary of what you're watching e.g. "Sir Alan Sugar points at
Christopher and says "You're fired"". This kind of information is
particularly useful if you're putting together a showreel and you
want to find clips of Sir Alan (Lord Sugar) delivering his
damnification or if you're a company like ITN and you want to make
searching for footage as easy as possible.
b) Subtitles: subtitles are effectively a live
text feed of what's happening in real-time. We haven't had
confirmation of this from Anthony Rose but we're guessing this is
how Zeebox knows, again, in real-time, where a viewer is in any
given TV programme. That's how Zeetags work.
It's a brilliant use of technology.
5. Sharing & Shopping
Yes, Zeebox has lots of content discovery and knowledge
functions but at heart it's an app for sharing what you're watching
with your friends. Some commentators have questioned whether we
need a catch-all app that aims to provide a social experience
across different TV shows when Twitter and Facebook already make a
decent job of it. Zeebox cleverly recognises the power of those
platforms, integrates them and adds an e-commerce layer on top. If
you're watching Season 1, Episode 6 of 'Life'and you want to catch
up by buying the box set Zeebox takes you straight to a store that
can help you. Unlike the early days of Facebook and Twitter we can
immediately see how Zeebox can monetise itself.
And 5 things that need a little more work
1. It's Complicated
Not on the TV Guide page perhaps but Zeebox is undoubtedly
unlike any other TV app we've ever seen. There is a lot going on;
lots of options, lots of potential clicks and lots of discovery.
Hmm... No, scratch that. If anything, this is a positive. The
UI is well laid-out, the screen isn't too busy (even if it does
remind us a little of Sky Soccer Saturday which itself was
innovative) and above all, it makes sense except...
A graph appears in the bottom right-hand corner of each
programme page which purports to tell us the popularity of a show.
What is this based on? Number of people watching according to BARB?
According to Zeebox? It would be good to know.
3. Even Deeper Integration
Given the e-commerce options available via the apps and download
functions Zeebox has a clear plan for making money. But we think
there's an ever bigger opportunity if Zeebox associates the names
of individual presenters / cast members with links into shopping
channels like Amazon. For example, a link from "Alan Sugar" would
take the user to all related DVDs on the site. Even without the
shopping element, "Alan Sugar" could, at least, transport the user
to the Lord Amstrad's IMDB page.
4. Sometimes you have to read the Manual
When on a dedicated programme page like "The One Show" we were
presented with the option to invite some friends to watch with us.
We chose said friends and clicked 'Invite' only to be shown a
dialogue that said that we couldn't invite friends to watch until
we selected a TV show. Huh? We also had a few minor problems
connecting via Facebook and getting the Twitter feed to load but
again, these seem to have resolved themselves after a few
5. Connected TV Not Connecting
When testing Zeebox we were in an environment that contained a
Sony Bravia internet TV. In theory this meant that we should have
been able to use the Zeebox iPad app as a remote control for the
television set. Unfortunately, Zeebox didn't recognise it or even
acknowledge it. That's a shame.
If you work in VOD, IPTV or Connected TV you have to download
this app and give it a go just so you can get a sense of how good
it is. From a consumer perspective we can imagine it being less
attractive - primarily through complexity but also because crucial
other data sources like newspaper's own live TV blogs and
minute-by-minute reports need integrating. Overall however we think
Zeebox is a superb app.