CLICK 3 TIMES TO BE ON TV
Teri Osborn vividly remembers the first time she appeared on television.
“I was freaking out,” Osborn said. “I was calling my husband into the living room.”
Osborn’s 15 seconds of fame were achieved without an appearance on a reality TV program, game show or local news segment. In fact, she never even left her home in Des Moines. She was using an interactive technology that puts viewers on television.
Developed by Youtoo Technologies, it uses smartphones, tablets and laptop computers to enable viewers to record brief videos themselves in high definition and send these segments, with the press of a button, to a cable or broadcast network. The software filters the submissions for obscenity and nudity, then places the videos in a queue for a show’s producer to review. If selected, the viewer’s submission airs alongside the program.
“This is where all the rocket science happens,” Youtoo Chief Executive Chris Wyatt said. “Within three clicks and in under three minutes, you can be on national TV.”
Youtoo is the latest wrinkle in interactive TV, a concept that dates from the 1950s, when the children’s show “Winky Dink and You” handed young viewers a “magic” crayon and encouraged them to draw pictures and save the hero.
The Dallas company’s technology seeks to capitalize on behavior that’s already occurring, as viewers reach for their “second screen” devices to cast votes during ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” or trumpet San Francisco Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval on Twitter.
Youtoo’s software uses smartphones, tablets and laptops to record and transmit broadcast-quality video, conduct real-time polling and post viewer comments on TV screens.
“Forty-one percent of tablet owners use their tablets while they’re watching TV. They’re chatting with friends and they’re looking up stuff about the show,” said Colin Dixon, senior analyst for the Diffusion Group, a consulting firm specializing in the digital home. “Youtoo seems to be tapping into this community aspect.”
The company is the brainchild of Wyatt, a 43-year-old serial entrepreneur who worked for several years in TV before catching the Internet bug.
While attending the Dallas Theological Seminary, Wyatt came up with the idea for GodTube, an online Christian video destination once ranked as the nation’s fastest-growing website, that combined user-generated video (a la YouTube), social networking (a la Facebook) and live webcasting (a la Ustream). Wyatt, its telegenic chief executive, received lots of media attention but resigned his post in 2008, when a new buyer took over and proposed taking the company in a different direction.
Wyatt launched his next start-up with his father-in-law, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, son of televangelist and Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller. Their ComStar Media Fund acquired television networks AmericanLife TV Network and FamilyNet, with a plan to use the channels to provide family-friendly programming. The younger Schuller served as chairman and the on-camera face of FamilyNet until its sale this month to Rural Media Group. He is looking to return to the ministry.
The operation was more than it appeared to be. Wyatt used the networks to test the interactive TV technology that would become Youtoo in “stealth mode,” to avoid attracting the attention of would-be competitors.
“From my days as a network producer, I knew no broadcast or cable network would allow us anywhere near their broadcast facility,” Wyatt said. “And I knew we had to develop, test and then prove our technology before any network would license it. Proving it was critical.”
For six months before its launch in September 2011 as Youtoo TV, the company conducted overnight tests of the technology on its own networks.
“The biggest eureka moment was when we saw the first piece of video go from a mobile phone and be on television,” Wyatt said.
Using a computer and Web browser, or applications for the iPhone, iPad or Android devices, anyone can record a 15-second “Fame Spot,” such as a response to a question like, “If you could be a game show host, which one would it be?” Users can also record a 30-second “Peoplemercial” to discuss a topic of their choice.
The system communicates with the user every step of the way, informing them when their video has been received, approved and, when relevant, scheduled to air -- building anticipation and social media buzz along the way.
“I refer to this technology as ‘grandma-proof,’ ” said David Armour , a former executive at reality TV production firm Endemol who recently joined Youtoo as executive vice president. “If you want the masses to adopt, you cannot be speaking only to people who are technically inclined.”
Osborn, a 53-year-old video blogger whose first 15-second “fame spot” aired during a rerun of a 1966 episode of “Batman,” said she found the process much easier than posting a submission to YouTube -- which requires recording, editing and then uploading a video. With Youtoo, she said, “You press one button to record, one to upload. With a smartphone it’s crazy simple.”
She estimates that her 53 recordings have aired hundreds of times. “There’s just something about seeing yourself on TV,” Osborn said. “It’s the same appeal as YouTube -- only it’s so much cooler, so much bigger.”
Youtoo attracted an investment from “Shark Tank” and “The Voice” executive producer Mark Burnett. It’s now licensing its technology to TV networks and producers, including Bunim/Murray Productions, creator of Lifetime’s “Project Runway” and E! Entertainment’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
Bunim/Murray already has incorporated Youtoo’s interactive features into currently airing episodes of Oxygen’s show “The Bad Girls Club.” Viewers can go to the network’s website, or the show’s Facebook page, to record a 10-second video response to such questions as, “If you could make out with a Bad Girl, who would it be and why?” Some viewer submissions appear when the episode is televised.
“We felt ‘The Bad Girls Club’ already had this passionate and engaged community,” Bunim/Murray President Gil Goldschein said. “We thought marrying the technology and incorporating that, as we’re doing with the reunion show, we could take that already excited and active social community and actually further engage them.”
Harleen Kahlon, Oxygen’s senior vice president of digital, said the Youtoo technology represents more than an opportunity to engage fans on multiple screens or encourage them to tune in to watch an episode at its scheduled time. It gives viewers a chance to take part in a conversation around a show.
“The activity that takes place around a given story ... is almost as relevant to fans as the story itself,” Kahlon said in an email. “With the advent of the second screen and various text-to-screen technologies that push tweets (and more) on air, fans have become accustomed to seeing/reading what other fans are saying about what they’re watching. So, today, our experience of watching a show is often influenced by other people’s reactions to that same story.”