So much of the magnificence of the Web is rooted in content democracy, where anyone can become a global publisher. No walls or mazes.
Not long ago, video creators looking for wide distribution on TV sets had few options beyond going door to door begging cable companies for what’s known as a hunting license. Then, after capturing one, going door to door again, begging for a spot on the dial in market after market.
Now, however, there is another emerging option. It doesn’t quite harbor the democracy of the Web, but the de facto lawmakers might not be as hard to lobby as a Comcast or Time Warner Cable. Smart and connected TVs and other over-the-top options offer a chance to cut a deal with a Yahoo, Roku or Samsung and launch a content portal via an app or widget.
Take iFood.tv, a five-year-old venture from former Microsoft executive Alok Ranjan and start-up veteran Vikrant Mathur. It started as a Web site with a load of food and recipe-related videos.
Since January, it’s found its way onto TVs via Roku and Boxee; Google TV and Yahoo Connected TV; and on Samsung’s Smart Hub. Viewers may not be accessing its offerings as much as Netflix or Hulu, but it’s got an entry point.
“We are putting a big bet that the food and recipe kind of content is very suitable,” said Ranjan, an engineer with an MBA.
IFood.tv has plenty of content with 35,000 videos available for on-demand viewing, collected from professional chefs, TV shows, cookbook authors and others. The company also says it has advantages with a recommendation engine based on personal taste, along with easy navigation and search technology.
Last month, the Silicon Valley company brought a trio of “channels” -- focusing on Indian food, healthy food and vegetarian options -- to various connected TV portals such as Google TV. It is also taking advantage of Apple TV -- the Indian food channel can be downloaded as a free iPhone app and then streamed through the platform.
With its legacy online business, even without the cachet of a Food Network or Epicurious, iFood.tv had about 3 million U.S. visitors in April, according to Quantcast data (down 8% from the year before).
The growth of smartphones and tablets should prove a benefit as users look to access recipes in the kitchen. Large-screen connected TVs, however, probably have a limited presence there.
Co-founder Ranjan says, though, that “five, 10 years from now almost all the TVs will be connected.”
Seems like a reasonable assumption, both considering consumer behavior and manufacturers’ interest in getting into the software business. IMS Research forecasts about 70% of total global TV shipments in 2016 will be Internet-connected. In 2011, the figure was 25%.
“Internet connectivity is becoming a standard on high-end TV sets, and it’s increasingly being added to mid-end televisions,” Veronica Thayer, a market analyst at IMS Research, said in a statement.
For now, iFood.tv and other companies launching video-on-demand “channels” via connected TVs already have pretty strong potential reach. The Leichtman Research Group says 38% of U.S. homes have at least one Internet-connected set via a gaming system, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Roku device or functionality built into the TV set directly.
IFood.tv has attracted a bucket of advertisers that include Kraft, L’Oreal and American Express. It is running a campaign now for the Brioni’s coffee brand with an eco-friendly message, which includes a healthy living micro-site and some sponsored video.
“We try to engage the users with the message in the context of what the users are already doing,” said co-founder Mathur, also an engineer with an MBA.
He's hoping that a growing connected-TV universe and over-the-top movement, and ubiquitous iFood.tv distribution across it, will attract a bevy of hungry advertisers. That’s an appetizing opportunity for other independent video developers, too.