“What’s Zeebox all about then?” I hear you shout, silently, “I’ve seen the TV ads. I’ve even downloaded the app for my generic tablet device stroke smartphone, but what actually is it?” Well, I’m glad you asked, because until last week I wasn’t really sure either.
Zeebox claims on its slightly annoying television advertisements, starring a weirdly eighties looking man representing the TV, and a geeky man in a Zeebox t-shirt, that it is “the best thing to happen to TV since TV”. A bold claim then, right up there with “This will be XYZ’s best adventure yet”, and “Cooking has never got tougher than this!” The advert also claimed that Zeebox makes your viewing experience more social.
In the real world, with living rooms and sofas and people with varying degrees of body odour, I’m not a fan of social TV watching. A few weeks ago I was sitting on the edge of my battered leather sofa watching the penultimate episode of Being Human, the make or break episode that would set up the gobsmacking finale to come, when my housemate sauntered in. Moments later I was straining my very sinews to prevent myself from ripping his head off. He’s an inane inquisitor you see, a TV talker with no qualms about chatting over your favourite prog. A barrage of questions like “Who’s that?” “How can a ghost time travel?” and “When does this finish?” hit me, like an unwelcome wave of arse. Monosyllabic grunts and tuts formed the replies, but he was relentless and continued to ruin the episode. The point is I’m a firm believer that there are some aspects of TV viewing that should remain sacred.
Sceptically though, mainly to see what all the fuss was about, I recently downloaded the app for my smartphone of choice, my iPhone 4S. Seconds later I had logged into the Tellybrain Twitter and my personal Facebook account and I was away. The Tottenham Hotspur versus Swansea City Premier League football match was on Sky Sports 1 at the time, so I quickly found that on the app. There are hundreds of channels on Sky TV so it could have been an arduous task to scroll through them all. Luckily there was a ‘select by category’ option, so finding the correct channel was a doddle. At the same time I also logged into the web version of the app on my PC.
Not long after I did Tottenham scored to take the score to 3-1. This is what Zeebox looked like on the web:
And this is what it looked like on the iPhone:
The web version is actually quite impressive. It looks great and is neatly separated into useful sections. One section is a commentary of the game with minute by minute updates (although the score didn’t update immediately). The middle section is a more general Twitter timeline with tweets about football and the Premier League – new tweets sent from here automatically carry the #PremierLeague hashtag. The third section is “Live ZeeTags” which shows what the people that are watching the Premier League are talking about – I assumed that bigger tags meant more people are discussing that thing, but on reading the FAQs that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The iPhone version looks a bit more cluttered because space is limited, but has most of the same features. Unlike the desktop app though, you can’t see the minute-by-minute commentary of the game, but you can see the tweets and the zeetags (when they decide to work…!)
“So is that it? Is Zeebox just a clever TV listings app with a Twitter client built in?” I hear you ask, even more silently than before. The answer is no. Despite this social element being its USP there is much more to the app than this. Here are a few of the other features that I found quite useful or novel.
News: Though not always completely relevant, the app has a good bash at finding related news content for the programme you are watching. It’s easy to access and when it works has potential to enhance the programme you are watching.
Downloads: During a programme this will suggest relevant things for you to buy on your device. During the Spurs game it recommended iPhone games, TV Series, and fan podcasts. During a drama I would assume it would link to episodes to buy from iTunes – quite a smart way to make money, and useful too.
Start a chat: If some of your friends are watching the same programme at the same time you can start a chat and type about it to each other. It’s a bit like a chat room, or a group messenger conversation, but it could be fun in certain situations.
I see Zeebox as being a useful piece of tech when watching reality television, entertainment, sport, or even the news to enhance the viewing experience. I don’t think it will work for everything though. Having worked in TV Drama for a while, I am a disciple of consuming fiction distraction-less. I think that reading people’s tweets, chatting to friends, reading the news, and downloading additional content would get in the way of the programme and lift me out of a genre that demands concentration. I think it would be much the same for comedy too. I’m not going to delete the app, in fact I quite like it, but I’m certainly not going to use it for everything.