More and more television viewers are multitasking during viewing, often engaging with content related to the show they are watching. Rather than try to combat this behavior, Showtime decided to embrace the opportunity and develop a multi-platform interactive experience that syncs to television programming. “We wanted to serve this audience of active fans with high-end synchronized content that enhances the viewing experience and provides deeper engagement,” said Showtime’s VP of Interactive Television, David Preisman.
SHO Sync offers fans enhanced viewing for many of the series on Showtime, including Homeland, Shameless, Ray Donovan, and Penny Dreadful. The second screen SHO Sync app is available for iPhone and iPad and, in an industry first, viewers can now interact on Smart TVs using their remote control.
The SHO Sync app uses Automated Content Recognition (ACR), to accurately synchronize interactive content with the program being viewed. According to Preisman, “Many subscribers watch Showtime series time shifted, from Showtime Anytime, Showtime On Demand or from a DVR. The ACR technology utilized by SHO Sync ensures that the interactive content is always synchronized with the show no matter how they choose to watch.” Fans can vote in polls, answer trivia, learn more about key characters, and make predictions. Interactive play earns users points, badges, and bragging rights, and everything in the app can be shared.
“When we were developing SHO Sync we heard about Parse from one of our developers, so we decided to give it a try. We were looking for a cloud-based backend to power SHO Sync across multiple platforms and with the free account, we decided to take it for a test run,” explains Preisman.
The development and launch of this complex product required close collaboration between Showtime, and developers from A Different Engine and Bottle Rocket. “What’s great about Parse is that it’s dead simple to use,” said Seth Piezas, Senior Developer, A Different Engine. “I’m a big fan of developing only code that is unique to a project. Being able to fall back on the existing data, analytics, and code management and reporting web UI is a fantastic win.” He added, “In this day and age, I think if you are building anything more than what makes your product unique you are simply focusing on the wrong thing. Parse lets you focus on your product.”
Showtime needed to integrate with half a dozen systems for content, images, data processing, and gamification. Parse allowed them to perform much of this integration once, in the cloud, to reduce the integration effort on the client applications. Showtime uses Parse Data and Cloud Code for common APIs so the TV and mobile client apps can access many of the various backend services and data processing.
“Our Interactive TV and Mobile teams strive to develop breakthrough apps where the technology goes away and the viewer can immerse themselves in the story,” says Preisman. “Since our launch in early 2013, Parse has provided a reliable cloud based solution, allowing our teams to focus on the user experience.”