CES 2015: Movies, TV shows sync with wearables, Web-connected objects

CES 2015: Movies, TV shows sync with wearables, Web-connected objects
A man wears Samsung's Gear VR headset, with a Marvel's Avengers case attached to it, at the 2015 CES convention in Las Vegas on Wednesday. The entertainment industry plans to experiment with wearables such as the Gear VR in 2015. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Matt Romano’s Christmas present two years ago from his parents seemed dull at first, but it has since lit up an experiment that’s among the first looking at how the entertainment industry navigates a pair of new technology frontiers.

The gift, Philips Hue “smart” lightbulbs that can be controlled through an app, got Romano thinking last year. The director of emerging platforms for the Syfy channel noticed himself adjusting the lights while watching TV and wondered what if the TV could automatically adjust them.

Romano searched through dozens of pages on LinkedIn for a contact at Philips. After reaching the right one, he worked with Philips and several technology partners to program a “lighting track” for the “Sharknado 2” program on Syfy last summer. A TV viewer who has the Syfy Sync mobile app open and at least one Philips Hue connected bulb or lamp would find their lights dimming or flickering as tension rises in the program or glowing red when a shark grows violent.

“It’s an add-on that enhances the viewing experience,” Romano said. “You don’t, or at least shouldn’t, realize it’s even happening.”

More than 250,000 people have downloaded the Syfy Sync app, the network said, and nearly 15% of users synced their Hue lights for “Sharknado 2.”

The response encouraged Romano. Recently, he programmed lighting cues for the first episode of Syfy’s upcoming show “12 Monkeys.” The effort, which took three days, was shown off at the International Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.

Romano’s case is among the examples of content creators and distributors starting to act on the technology industry’s optimism about consumers falling in love with wearable technology and  items like lightbulbs that are connected to the Web.

At CES, several digital media executives, including from Walt Disney Co. and CBS Corp., said that one topic top of mind in 2015 is how to make movies, shows and other content sync well with clothing, wardrobe accessories and household appliances that have Internet connections.
The research lab at DVR-service TiVo, for instance, is exploring what role it can play in a world where people regularly don virtual reality headsets.

“I think our civilization may be defined by before VR and after VR,” TiVo’s chief marketing officer, Ira Bahr, said in an interview at CES. “That’s why you see big companies buying into it.”

Samir Ahmed, chief technology officer at video streaming and download service M-Go, said the company’s expanding its streaming app for the Samsung Gear VR headset and expects to release more clips from Hollywood studios in the next couple of months. The “interactive movies” allow viewers to explore the story as they wish rather than just focus on the main plot, he said.

20th Century Fox had an interactive clip available for viewing at CES. “Wild -- The Experience,” a separately produced stand-alone based off of the “Wild” film in theaters, puts the goggles wearer into the wilderness alongside actress Reese Witherspoon.

Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said in an interview that he expects an aggressive move toward wearables, where he predicts many actions currently undertaken on clunky devices will become more seamless.

“Anything that makes our relationship with consumers and the delivery of our content more seamless and easy is a good thing for us,” he said.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33