While I remain underwhelmed by my new Apple TV after a few weeks with it (look for a series of reviews in coming columns), there is no doubt that opening the big-screen platform to app developers is going to render some cool ideas. For companies I have covered in the past like "appisode" maker Plumzi, for instance, "Apple TV is making our vision come true," says CEO Guillaume Cohen.
Plumzi takes existing studio animation assets and turns them into interactive apps like a superb Tom and Jerry "Santa’s Little Helper" app I covered last Christmas. Until now they had to work with the limited touch and small-screen environment of the iPad and iPhone. But with the voice and motion flexibility of the Siri Remote, these appifications of the cartoon universe now make more kinetic connections to the user. "It feels like holding a magic wand," he says.
For their first Apple TV app, Plumzi worked with American Greetings’ Care Bears franchise and built into an existing episode of the cartoon series many moments where a young child doesn’t just tap and swipe on a screen but virtually peddles a bike or plays a harp, writes their name directly into elements of the cartoon. The "Care Bear-A-Thon" does a good job of demonstrating the sharp responsiveness of the Siri Remote and its capacity for bringing the user into the scene. Plumzi has always done a good job of fluidly integrating interactivity into a rich animation experience so that it never feels gratuitous. The basic dynamics of the animated short form the bedrock of the experience, and the interactive moments can make the young viewer feel like a friend helping their favorite characters along.
Cohen predicts that interactive versioning of TV episodes will be a natural part of TV development in coming years. Well, of course, his business model depends on it. “Linear TV is getting outmoded,” he proclaims.
Well, maybe, but for a generation raised on iPads and video games, interactivity is an expectation. On the brand side, Sean Gorman, president of American Greetings Entertainment, thinks the appisode experience “is huge for us to make things come to life.” His American Greetings licensing unit already has a robust app development team that turns properties like Care Bears and Holly Hobby into more immersive environments for kids and their parents. He agrees with Cohen that the Siri Remote is an especially magical addition to a Care Bears universe where the main characters have signature abilities. “It feels like they have Care Bears powers,” he says. “That feels pretty empowering to a kid to be that kind of leader and friend to a Care Bear.”
“Passive TV is great, but we see growth in the app business, with fan engagement and the ability to have stickiness with the brand,” he adds. App development lets AG extend a franchise like Care Bears in a lot of ways for different regions and segments of the audience. “We can be very nimble in the app business.” It also adds a new revenue stream, as in-app purchases and up-front download fees can add to the bottom line.
As to whether interactive appisodes really are a substantial part of the future TV experience, who knows? “Interactive TV” has been a longstanding dream of digital platforms for a couple of decades now. Much of this depends on the modes of TV viewing that evolve with the technology. One could argue that the persistent use of mobile and tablets in the living room could dampen the trend toward an interactive TV because it so easily offloads the impulse to these second screens. Interactive TV always suffered a basic problem of breaking the social experience of TV viewing and focusing on whoever holds the controller. Why do we need interactivity baked into the set top box when "throwing" mobile experiences to the TV screen from devices might be a more flexible and cooperative experience.
Whatever the eventual habits that shake down around America’s "electronic hearth," it is clear that the living room experience of the future is in play.