Newly-launched LA-based startup TouchFrame has created a new category of entertainment: App Shows. Their debut App Show, Braindex, co-produced by Endemol's 51 Minds Entertainment, reached No. 1 on iTunes in just one weekend, without a single dollar spent on user acquisition. While the app has fallen back to a position in the top 100 or 150 apps, it's still early days for this new cross between games and TV shows. GamesIndustry International spoke with Sam Rogoway, CEO of Touchframe, about this new category of games and what it might accomplish.
Rogoway's background led him to combine these different industries into one product. "I was an entertainment lawyer and represented a lot of game show production companies," said Rogoway. "Before that I ran a company called TripUp that was acquired by Kayak. So I had a mix of entertainment experience and technology experience." Then the idea occurred: "A year ago I was watching Hulu and Netflix launch shows on my iPad as well as playing Words with Friends and Draw Something games, and it just felt like there was something missing. I couldn't touch it, I couldn't move anything around. It's a cool HD experience but it's no different than if you're watching it on a TV."
Game shows still dominate TV ratings in several time slots in many countries, as TouchFrame points out on its web site. Watching ordinary people compete and win prizes has interested viewers for decades, perhaps because it's not hard to imagine yourself competing in these games. The effort involved in actually getting on a game show has kept that in the realm of fantasy, but TouchFrame is trying to change that with its new platform.
"With so much focus on second-screen apps... to be honest we think that those apps are horrible"
Usually efforts to create interactive TV have started with TV and trying to add interactivity, which ends up being clunky. TouchFrame looked at the iPad and saw that it could already handle both video and interactivity. "It's the perfect place to do it," said Rogoway. "With so much focus on second-screen apps, checking in and looking up IMDB information - to be honest we think that those apps are horrible. If you're watching Modern Family, you want to watch Modern Family."
Rogoway persuaded people that this would be a way to bring game shows to a new level. "I started talking to game show producers," Rogoway said. "It would be a new avenue to distribute your content, a new way to reach users and have them really create an interactive experience."
The first show, Braindex, uses a set built into the back of a truck with a host and a contestant. It's a simple setup with several advantages, Rogoway noted. The cost is low, and it's completely portable. So far Braindex has shot in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and Rogoway has plans to take the show other places. Braindex can be connected to events like conventions or festivals by traveling to the right location. It also makes it easier to find new contestants for the show.
Rogoway's vision goes beyond just the one show, however. "We want to create a network of these shows, cross-promote traffic back and forth," he noted. "Once we have a user we can take a user from one game into another game - there can be universal prizes across the games. The bigger vision is to create a network of app shows, and gaming seems like the right place to start."
While many media companies have been pushing for 'second screen' applications like Microsoft's SmartGlass, Rogoway feels that's the wrong path. "The second screen is really Google and Facebook and Twitter," said Rogoway. "Why can't the iPad be the first screen and connect the dots between entertainment and gaming? We'll do original content that has interactivity that we'll distribute as an app, with each show being its own app."
TouchFrame has been creating a platform for a range of different app shows. "All different game shows have points, players, challenges, some type of question and answer in some form, video that drives the experience, and that's what we've built," Rogoway said. "We let them do what they do best, create an interesting show that's not ridiculously expensive to produce, so we can do it as an app, and then we power it with our technology."
What's the financial model? "There is no monetization yet; we're focused on getting user adoption and iterating through that," Rogoway admitted. "We will at some point be turning ads on. We're not going to run an ad every few seconds or throughout the show; they'll be strategically placed. Because it is a show, it makes sense to run a post-roll video ad between when you finish the show and when you watch the results. We'll be running video ads, and if people don't want the ads they can do an in-app purchase to turn the ads off."
Sponsorships are also a possibility, both because of the brand advertising and because many sponsors have celebrities under contract who could be contestants. "We're talking to a couple of different brands that have celebrities under endorsement," said Rogoway. "It's good branding for them." Braindex has used a mix of minor celebrities like Mike Tyson along with interesting personalities, testing the audience reaction to see what players are interested in.
"The Mike Tyson show is a good example; people are craving a rematch," Rogoway said. This leads to other possibilities for the future of Braindex. "The app will turn into a freemium model, where you'll be able to play a number of episodes for free. Then if you want to rematch someone, you'll either have to have enough points or you can do an in-app purchase."
Of course, the classic game show model has contestants competing to win prizes, and Rogoway is planning for that. "We'll be announcing a partnership where we'll actually be doing prizing," Rogoway noted. "There will be prizing for beating celebrities and beating friends. The other thing we're working on is doing a competition where if you want to be on Braindex, play enough games you'll be entered and you'll be flown out to Los Angeles and be a contestant and everyone can play against you to see if they're smarter than you."
TouchFrame is now in that difficult initial period where the technology and the concept both need to be proven. Rogoway points out an advantage to the content model being used. "One of the things about the video content is we can keep it fresh. We can update the content without having to push an update to Apple every time." The next year should provide some evidence of whether TouchFrame's vision of mixing games and entertainment television is ready for prime time.