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Application Nation

3/07/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

There was a time when the “small screen”
referred to the TV set.

Now it means the even tinier one in your pocket or briefcase —
and the TV industry has been rushing pell-mell to get there, with
apps designed to extend and enhance television.

The galaxy of apps for TV shows and services ranges from those
that provide listings to those that manage digital video recorders.
Still others are meant to entertain, providing video, games, show
information or social-media features.

Cover_Story_Image_03/07Comcast, for one, has a number of app releases “that are part of
a much larger effort to reinvent how customers interact with their
entertainment on TV, online and on mobile devices,” chairman
and CEO Brian Roberts said in announcing plans to stream live
TV to Apple iPads this January.

The chart provides a representative overview of TV-related
mobile apps available from different players — so if your favorite
isn’t here, it’s only because we didn’t have enough room to
list them all. Also note that companies may have multiple showor
brand-specific apps.

The most powerful player in mobile app-dom, bar none, is Apple,
which will debut the thinner, lighter iPad 2 on March 11. The
Silicon Valley superpower now claims the iTunes App Store offers
more than 350,000 apps, and the iPhone is still the leading
target platform. Google’s Android Market is farther behind, with
an estimated 90,000, although roughly 50,000 were added in the
last six months.

Some apps are free and they’re meant to foster subscriber or
viewer loyalty, while others represent incremental sales opportunities.

The TV world’s biggest mobile app player is The Weather Channel.
As of January 2011, it had more than 35 million cumulative
downloads of its mostly ad-supported apps on all tablets and
smartphones. Weather’s apps are the second most-used apps on
all smart phones behind only Facebook, according to Nielsen.

Keep in mind that we’re not talking about interactive TV applications
for the big-screen HD set in the living room. That’s a separate
category that includes everything from apps written for CableLabs’
Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format spec to proprietary widgets
for Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players.

For pay TV operators, apps for iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys and
Android devices are a way to retain tech-savvy customers, who
now assume “there’s an app for that” and expect their video provider
to cater to their gadgety lifestyle. “Whereas we used to watch
television with the TV Guide in our laps, we now fiddle with iPads
and smartphones,” ZatzNotFunny.com blogger Dave Zatz said.

Cable companies are able to deliver cool new features through
these apps, helping them overcome the limitations of older infrastructure
and set-top boxes, according to Rovi chief evangelist
Richard Bullwinkle.

“The apps allow them to offer very cool interactivity and advanced
features without updating the core equipment,” he said.

Rovi last week launched TotalGuide XD, a customizable media
guide for cable operators to offer TV viewing and content discovery
on tablets and smartphones.

Users don’t really care about the technology behind the new
apps. They only care about one thing: Does it enhance the experience?

To see the chart accompanying this story, click here: Cover_Story_03/07
September