Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Celebrity APP-rentice goes mobile interactive

It's not often that I pay attention to what Donald Trump has to say on Twitter (sample: “Obamacare is a disaster” followed by “It was great seeing Miss Universe yesterday!”), but last Sunday night something he wrote grabbed my attention.

“Be sure to download my new Celebrity Apprentice app to begin interacting with tonight's episode,” he tweeted, along with a web link.

Given that I already watch almost everything on television with one hand on the remote and the other on my iPhone (tweeting, Facebooking, playing Draw Something) (yes, I AM addicted thanks, and no, I'm not aware of any support groups, sorry) this was too enticing an invitation to ignore.

I tapped the link, downloaded the app to my phone and immediately discovered a whole new way to watch television – by barely watching it at all.

Built by Californian tech company ACTV8, the free Celebrity Apprentice app turns the live TV show (which screens on NBC on Sunday nights in America) into a game by posing trivia questions and viewer polls every 30 to 60 seconds as it airs.

Players accrue points for correct answers and compete with friends and strangers across the country to top the virtual leaderboard, and win prizes.

Like something out of a science fiction novel, the app stays in sync with the live show by “listening” to it. I held my phone up near the television and fired up the app and it instantly worked out what part of the episode I was watching by what it heard – the background music, the dialogue.

It's similar technology to that used in popular app “Shazam”, which can identify any commercially recorded song just by being held near the tune when it's playing.

This way, the Celebrity Apprentice app was able to tailor quiz questions based on what I was seeing on screen, like “What colour is Mr Trump's tie?” or “Take a bet: How many times will Lisa Lampanelli say the F word in the next scene?” (For the record, it was six.)

Never. Stops. Swearing. Except to cry.

But the ad break is where the app really shows its worth to the TV networks. Just as it can detect the start of an episode, it can also detect, say, a General Motors commercial and launch a special deal or car-themed “bonus game”. And getting viewers to play games with the ads is better than having people skip past them on their TiVos.

With advertising dollars in mind the Celebrity Apprentice app is clearly designed to be used in conjunction with the live TV screenings, but I've found it also works with recordings of past episodes and highlight clips on YouTube. And the app is available in the Australian app store, so Aussie fans watching the new series online can join in the fun, albeit a few days late.

Interactivity is certainly a huge part of the future of television, and we can probably expect to see more apps like this developed for other shows.

But while the Celebrity Apprentice app was novel, even a seasoned TV/phone/laptop multitasker like me found that, after a while, it was just exhausting. After half an hour of feverishly trying to answer quiz questions, vote in polls and keep an eye on the action I abandoned it, and ditched my phone for a cup of tea and a biscuit instead.

Ultimately television shows are made to be watched, right?


This article was first published in the Sunday Mail TV Guide on April 8, 2012.


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