A viewer watching “Glee” on Fox.com can click on a Twitter feed and see what people are saying about the show as they watch it. While Finn and Rachel share a scene, a viewer can look up a biography for either character, and download their image, poster-sized. When the cast sings Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” that same fan can buy the song on iTunes — all while the episode itself plays on, uninterrupted.
The company behind this synthesis of fan participation and merchandising is Coincident TV. A 20-person start-up headquartered in the penthouse of the old Sears building at Mission and Cesar Chavez, the company was nominated for an Emmy for its interactive work for “Glee” just a few months after its launch last April.
More and more Americans are watching videos online — seven in 10 adult Internet users, according to a Pew Research report released last June. Those numbers include any kind of video, from YouTube clips of kittens batting string to streaming films through Netflix. All that time viewing videos online has big implications for television — a quarter of all full-length television shows are now viewed on a computer.
Coincident is capitalizing on that trend, turning a medium that has until now been television run through a computer into something that is part social networking, part e-commerce and part interactive fan site.“This is new media,” says David Kaiser, Coincident TV’s CEO. “This is a new way of dealing with content.”
It’s the e-commerce part that is the most appealing to an industry faced with increasingly uncertain revenues from advertising. “You are selling songs while they’re playing,” Kaiser says. “The emotional levels are high because you’re watching. It’s context. You can buy them right now while you’re excited about it.”
Coincident’s key strength is the seamlessness of the experience it provides: You can watch a video, purchase a song or click on extra features, and never have to pause or leave the original video.
“MTV and Fox have a lot of video,” says Alex Beckman, Coincident’s vice president of video production and design. “As a user, you have to have a bunch of tabs. With this, it’s on the same page, same URL, no new tabs.”
It’s worked for the MTV Video Music Awards. You can watch clips of past winners like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” and as you watch, a pop-up about the influences for the video comes up. You can click on a clip of Beyonce accepting the award, or one of Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift because Beyonce didn’t win, and without changing tabs, “Single Ladies” pauses while the other clips pop up and play.
In addition to MTV, Coincident also has deals with Viacom, Fox and two other major networks that CEO Kaiser says he can’t yet disclose. The networks decide what they want to do — increase Facebook fans or add web extras — and use Coincident’s software to power it.
There are competitors in this field, which Tracy Swedlow, who runs online interactive news hub Interactive TV Today, calls Click TV. But Coincident has a particularly high profile, given that it’s one of the few working with established big broadcasters.
Kaiser is “a real veteran,” says Swedlow, who has been covering this industry since the early ‘90s. “He’s been pushing interactive TV for a long time.”
Coincident is Kaiser’s seventh start-up. In the early ’90s he was vice president at software company Macromedia, later bought by Adobe. He founded another software company, Navisoft, which was bought by AOL in 1994.
Kaiser started an interactive television company, Respond TV, in 1998. But he says working with cable and satellite companies was difficult.
In 2008, Kaiser was technically retired but still fooling around with programming. He was working on software for a choose-your-own-adventure-style video game for kids.
But he also noticed that when he watched television, he usually did so with a laptop sitting nearby. When the news or program he was watching was on a subject he wanted more information about, he’d look it up on the Internet. Why not put it all together?
“I could write the code to just combine these two, so I did,” Kaiser says. He didn’t mean to start another company, but when he showed former colleagues, they encouraged him to do just that. “Now that you can do it on the Internet, the vision is realizable,” he says. “I think it’s the next evolution of media.”
Time spent viewing video online increased 45 percent this January compared to last, according to the most recent data from Nielsen. YouTube and Facebook top the charts for most online video viewers, and Netflix and Fox Interactive Media also make the top 10. “Video is by far the predominant media type in the world,” says Kaiser. “It’s a hotter, more emotive media.”
Kaiser’s years in the industry proved useful when it came to getting the company off the ground. Coincident never even tried to get venture capital — the company is internally funded by Kaiser and his co-founder, Bruce Schwartz, plus board members. “People I’ve worked for or people who’ve worked for me are all over the place,” Kaiser says. “I had somebody to call and say, ‘I’m doing this cool thing, do you want to see it?’”
Already, he says, they have “real revenue.” The company brought in $800,000 in its first eight months.
In their brick conference room, Kaiser and Beckman rattle through all the demonstrations they’re working on. They’re confident their programs are smoother and more dynamic than other interactive companies’. It’s another reason Beckman says Coincident is attracting clients.
“They want the shiny, new object,” he says.
Hollywood and television are not the only industries drawn by the shiny, new object.
Coincident has already done deals with retailers — like the one for an Audi sports car, where you can watch a clip that takes you around a racetrack from the driver’s seat, or one where it seems as if you’re chasing the Audi around the track. If you want to click on videos of what Audi drivers have said about the car, you can do that, too.
Kaiser thinks the potential in retail is big. “Retail spends money, shoots beautiful video, plays it back and does nothing with it,” he says. “Every time a guy runs across the screen in a Nike video, it ought to show you what shoes he’s wearing.”
Coincident is looking to expand into educational videos and news programs, too.
At least 20 others companies, including Clickthrough, Veeple and VideoClix, are competing in the same territory as Coincident, Swedlow says. “We’ve seen the rise of quite a lot of innovation going on in that space.”
“I absolutely think other companies will try to get into this,” says Kaiser. “Most of the technology is free. We’re still making money on the server side. Anyone who wants to can use these methods.”
Swedlow agrees that Click TV is a fast-moving field. Something that seems amazing and forward-thinking can become ubiquitous a few months later.
Coincident was the first to weave interactive television into Facebook. But that may not last long — other companies are announcing similar interactivity with the site.
“You get something out the door, and somebody’s right behind you,” Swedlow says.