Akamai moves to optimize TV

January 22, 2013

Kris Alexander, an Akamai strategist, demonstrates a prototype of a technology the company says would be a scalable real-time platform for “second screen” applications (credit: Akamai)

Akamai, the Web optimization company whose servers deliver up to 30 percent of Web traffic, is setting its sights on creating a TV technology that can detect what a person is watching and stream secondary content to a smartphone or tablet in near real-time, MIT Technology Review reports.

The aim, the company says, is to take today’s fast-growing but chaotic landscape of TV “companion” apps – such as ones delivering athlete stats to people watching the Olympics, or crime-fighting details to CSI junkies — and make it easier to create and see such additional content.

Nielsen, the measurement firm, recently reported that 40 percent of U.S. television watchers are now in the daily habit of using their smartphone or tablet in front of the TV. Many networks and shows have tried to reach such people with apps providing auxiliary content — often to encourage viewers to watch the show live and thus please advertisers.

What Akamai sees is a chance to bring some order to this chaos and make everything run a bit faster — and through the Web, not a collection of apps.

Real-time information on what show you’re watching — even as you change the channel — gets sent to Akamai’s servers. Relevant secondary information then gets streamed directly back to your smartphone or tablet in near real-time.

Kris Alexander, an Akamai strategist, demonstrated the technology while showing a scene from Mission Impossible II, in which Tom Cruise’s character was visiting a racetrack. In the tablet in Alexander’s hand, a link popped up leading to information about the Randwick Racecourse in Australia, where the scene was filmed; later, a link for buying Cruise’s brand of aviator sunglasses appeared.

A New York-based industry consortium called Second Screen Society projects that the market for second-screen apps is $490 million today and could be $5.9 billion by 2017.

What could a widely used, super-fast platform lead to? One can imagine deeper dives into news content, or real-time polling during a presidential debate, building on the existing phenomenon of people tweeting their impressions about television shows in real-time (see “A Social Media Decoder”).

But the most popular applications of new communications technology platforms — whether the World Wide Web or Twitter — are often far from clear at the outset.