Interview: AirPlay CEO Morgan Guenther
AirPlay wants to change the way consumers think about both mobile gaming and TV viewing. Ambitious? Certainly. Realistic? Absolutely.
Never heard of AirPlay before? What about TiVo? The latter company might be the only one of the two that is currently a household name, but AirPlay CEO Morgan Guenther is confident that that will be changing over the next 12 months. Guenther, a former president of TiVo, formed AirPlay to further evolve just what the TV viewing experience is all about - this time with the help of mobile phones.
Modojo sat down with Guenther at CTIA this week to discuss how AirPlay's service expands the definition of "mobile gaming," how it creates a new mobile entertainment dynamic, and how it can finally allow me to prove once and for all that I know more about football than my dad.
Playing to a Medium's Strengths
AirPlay's service allows for TV viewers to interact with live TV broadcasts in realtime, via their handset. The specific application being demoed at CTIA (and the first scheduled to go live, this September) allows gamers watching a live football game and predict the next play via a small application installed on their handset. Many playcalling options were available, from a run right, to deep pass left. After the play is over you're awarded (or docked) points based on your predictive accuracy, and an updated leaderboard is displayed.
"I don't believe that mobile entertainment has to replace any other entertainment medium at all," Guenther explained. "Things like Mobile TV are exciting, but it will never replace traditional TV viewing. The experience of sitting in front of a huge 54-inch hi-def display is something that can't be replicated on mobile devices. All the talk right now seems to be focused on moving content to the phones - on creating a content experience on the phones. This is what sets AirPlay apart. We view mobile entertainment as an opportunity to augment other mediums, not to replace them."
"Everyone owns a cell phone, and our application is able to run on essentially any handset, because it has a small footprint and isn't graphically intensive," Guenther continued. "Sprint is the first carrier we have announced a relationship with and we expect to be on 80% of Sprint handsets at launch."
Testing Football IQ
The heart of AirPlay's fun factor lies in its ability to bring friends closer together, according to Guenther.
"We will be offering things like national leaderboards and other competition amongst strangers, but our market research has found that what really excites consumers is AirPlay's ability to allow them to test their football IQ against their friends," he said. "Members can create their own private groups or leagues and then see that leaderboard get updated on their handset throughout the game."
AirPlay is leading with football this fall and expects to be live for the beginning of the season, but there are other live TV events that the company will also allow enthusiasts to compete in. Reality TV fans will be able to vote in realtime on who Trump will eliminate next on The Apprentice, and movie buffs will be able to use AirPlay to vote on Oscar results during the award show's downtime and commercials. The company also has adapted their service to Jeopardy, allowing gamers to answer questions as they appear on TV.
"We want our service to mirror as closely as possible what people are thinking about when they watch these programs," Guenther said. "When you watch football, you're the head coach - the offensive coordinator. Everyone is always thinking and talking about what the next play will be or should have been. When you watch Jeopardy you're trying to answer the questions. During the Oscars everyone has their own opinion on who will win. That's what AirPlay is all about."
Many Tech Hurdles
The path for AirPlay, which was formed about a year ago, hasn't been an easy one. The company currently stands at about 25 employees, with a heavy emphasis on engineering, as creating such realtime entertainment is much more challenging than it might initially seem.
"We have a production facility to produce our content alongside these live broadcasts. There's no other way to do it - every broadcast that's AirPlay-enabled requires live individuals preparing that realtime data," Guenther said. "Network latency was also a very major concern. A third issue was the differences in consumers' TV viewing experience. One person might be receiving a game via cable while another is receiving via satellite. These are all barriers we've worked through to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to participate."
AirPlay hasn't formally announced a pricing model, but Guenther did confirm that a subscription model is most likely, and that consumers can probably expect to pay around $5 a month per genre, whether it be sports, reality, or gameshows. An "all you can eat" as well as unique pricing for one-ff events like awards shows is also likely.