Today has seen Day 1 of London’s 2-day TV Hackfest, a hackathon devoted to driving forward the future of television. An army of developers, designers, and entrepreneurs have stormed Earl’s Court Two to compete in the event, which offers the chance of cash prizes and lucrative contracts from the events sponsors, which include FilmOn and Sky.
The atmosphere has a strange mix of camaraderie and competition. On the one hand, competitors clearly bond over the shared spirit of innovation, the passion for software development, and the seemingly limitless supplies of free tea, coffee, pizza, and, perhaps most importantly, RedBull. In contrast, the first question that one competitor, a young programmer named Simon, asked me when I went to talk to him was, “You’re not from the competition?” His fear that I might be looking to steal his team’s hard fought for innovations shows how real the competitive element is — and how seriously some were taking this.
So what of the ideas themselves? Well, judging from the first day’s progress, the future of TV seems to undeniably be contextual advertising and cross-platform links. One group I spoke to were taking advantage of the Gracenote API to create an app that could give you information about the songs playing in films and TV shows that you watched, along with direct links to purchase albums and mp3s. They were a TV app agency, well versed in app development, but brand new to the world of hackathons, though throwing themselves in pretty cheerfully. We bandied around potential names together, agreeing that Sound Buzz was the best that they had so far, and they were in high spirits even as they admitted that they were finding the day quite a technical challenge.
Another team I spoke to was struggling to find success with an idea that they were calling ZapAd, which hoped to “present an alternative feed of information on a mobile device,” based on what a user is watching on TV. In the hopes of a clearer explanation, one of the programmers offering an example, saying that when a user watched Top Gear, “as an alternative feed of information on your mobile device you could see… the specification of a car, the manufacturing details, where you can buy it, customer warranty details, and stuff like that.” Amazingly, the team of four working on this idea had never met before this morning — they simply happened to be at the same table, came up with an idea, and started working together, though the technical challenges seemed to be getting the better of them.
If TV Hackfest represents the future of television, then it’s clear that the future means more unique and targeted advertising, beamed straight to all your devices at once. It’s interesting stuff, though it’s hard not to feel that it’ll excite advertising executives more than it will most consumers. With plenty of teams, and individuals, in the competition, and judging to take place tomorrow, there’s a lot left to hear and see from the event — and no doubt, the stuff being hastily coded today could well be the start of what ends up in your living room a few months or years from now.
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