After four years of training smartphone users to identify any song they hear on the spot, Shazam is betting big on television, expanding its popular app to recognize shows on every channel. Once "tagged," a show will appear on the screen with information not only about music aired during the show but also cast information, sports statistics, links to the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia and Facebook and Twitter interaction.
It's a huge expansion and strategy shift for the Palo Alto, California, company, which claims 250 million users. And it works so far – a recent test turned up MTV's Parental Control (and the Flo Rida and Switchfoot songs contained within), TeenNick's Dance Academy and CNN Newsroom. "It will let you Shazam virtually any program on any network," says Doug Garland, the company's chief revenue officer. "We're transitioning from being a music-discovery company to a broader media-engagement company."
Shazam has been upgrading its technology from audio recognition in songs to audio recognition in TV shows for more than a year and a half. The TV technology has worked so far due to the company's relationships with networks (such as NBC for the Summer Olympics and Fox for American Idol) and brands (the company claims 140 relationships with advertisers, including half of the advertisers in this year's Super Bowl). With this Shazam for TV announcement, the technology officially begins to recognize just about every show as well as linking via mobile devices to social media and websites.
"It seems like a natural progression," says Bobby Rosenbloum, a veteran Atlanta intellectual-property attorney who works with artists and entertainment companies. "Once you've done this with music, where do you go from there?"
In addition to expanding its user base, Shazam hopes its TV-oriented business model will push the company into what Business Week estimates is a $189 billion-per-year advertising market. Ultimately, Shazam execs hope to work directly with brands so a user can Shazam an ad, then instantly get more information about a product and connect with company sales reps.
"It just really makes a connection between the TV and the user," Shazam's Garland says. "It marries the reach of TV with the interactivity and engagement of mobile and creates a much stronger bond with the consumer."
Eventually, says Aram Sinnreich, a veteran tech-company analyst and assistant media-studies professor at Rutgers University, Shazam for TV may not be necessary, since the Internet and television broadcasting may not be separate experiences in the future. But for now, Shazam and similar apps could be an important bridge between the two. "TV is a much larger, much more valuable market, and Shazam can help broadcasters to better understand and better connect with their audience base," he says. "And that means bigger advertising dollars, more [customer] loyalty and smarter programming decisions."