We love our DVRs. Not only do they keep our lives less stressful and more enjoyable, but also afford us the luxury of never having to imagine a life deprived of Liz Lemon’s quips or the cast of Modern Family.
But the singular problem with DVR, is that even though it saves the show for you, it doesn’t save the public chatter around it.
Tomorrowish’s Amy Greenlaw first stumbled into this problem back in 2010 at South x Southwest’s Twitter party. On that night, amidst the mingling crowds of entrepreneurs and tech folk, stood one quite perturbed Greenlaw, and her friend, future Tomorrowish co-creator and CEO, Mick Darling. Unfortunately for Greenlaw, the date of the event also coincided with the final series finale of the psychological sci-fi thriller Lost, which happened to be one of her favorite shows. Her Twitter feed brimmed with spoilers about the ending.
“She was…not politely…very loudly letting everyone know how upset she was,” Darling tells me as he chuckles at the “very vivid” memory. “It was freaking [Greenlaw] out because she was waiting to watch the final two or three episodes of the season, which were saved on her DVR.”
“I said, ‘Well, you have your Tivo, if only you had your Tivo for your Twitter,’ literally pointing up at the screen,” Darling shares. “Then you’d be fine, right?”
Simply put, Tomorrowish is exactly what Darling articulated that warm, early spring Texas evening: a TiVo for Twitter.
In its three years of existence, the Cambridge-based startup has delved further into this idea, and refined its process of preserving online conversation buzzing around the public’s most-loved TV series by allowing people to partake in the viewing experience as if it were happening live. Tomorrowish uses an advanced social TV technology that captures, records, filters and replays a stream of best-fit social media content synchronized with viewers’ favorite shows. The tweets and comments are deployed at the same moment during the show when they were first shared, thereby allowing people to reap all the benefits of DVR.
But before “Tivo for Twitter” was Tomorrowish, the concept and the technology was under the name TweePlayer. In 2011, Darling and his friend Dave Fisher bootstrapped around $250,000 from family and friends, taught themselves some Ruby, and tacked TweePlayer on as a side project to their regular 9-to-5s. “We tried the consumer angle first,” Darling says. TweePlayer partnered with Hulu, which allowed the startup to apply its social media savvy to some of the most popular shows on the air, such as 30 Rock and House.
“After those articles, my phone was ringing for days. But I wasn’t getting calls from people who wanted to use it for themselves,” Darling states, his eyes growing wide. “I was getting calls from the networks, and that was probably an even more important realization than the first one.”
From that moment on, the startup has taken a business-to-business approach to growth, according to Darling. TweePlayer inherited the name Tomorrowish, the title of a former venture of Darling’s, in the April 2012. That summer, the newly branded startup received angel funding and accepted a spot in MassChallenge, where it focused on securing partnerships with TV networks and improving the Tomorrowish technnology. When January 2013 rolled around, the company had added Turner Broadcasting to its list of partners; this May, Tomorrowish also sealed a deal with Fox Now, the broadcasting company’s social media app. Just last month, the startup was also named one of five companies to join Media Camp, a year-old corporate accelerator hosted by Turner Broadcasting and Warner Brothers focused on media located in San Francisco.
Tomorrowish is the first to combine social media conversation with quality content by taking advantage of Twitter’s keyword organization through an algorithmic system the creators dub Tomorrowish Machine Curation (TMC).
“There’s an algorithm out there for everything. there’s literally even one that can summarize all of Moby Dick into a single sentence,” Darling explained. But for Tomorrowish’s delicate technology to work, it has to summarize content equivalent to hundreds of thousands of copies of that thick American classic in mere seconds–in real time, of the best content.
This means that viewers can avoid spoilers plaguing their Twitter feed from those who have already seen the season finale. Fans can add their quips and comments into the conversation, as well as curate the feed and make sure that certain phrases, people or keywords aren’t included in the comments displayed during the viewing experience. Darling also noted that Tomorrowish is getting close to syncing with personal handles which would allow users to specifically see conversation going on among their “tweeps,” or the accounts they follow.
This real–time replay also means that broadcasting networks can have access to reliable and precise consumer demographics. Millions of users often share personal information—their location, age, education and interests—on their Twitter and through other online outlets. Because they provide this information willingly, Tomorrowish and its partners can use Twitter to not only see who is watching what shows, but also see when he or she changed the channel and what the most memorable parts of the show were, thereby thoroughly gauging audience demographic, opinions, and loyalty.
With its unique appeal to both consumers and businesses, this startup could very well become the TV of the next generation. While Tomorrowish is the first company to move into the social DVR space, Twitter recently announced its plans to launch a DVR tool for live event filtering. It’s too soon to tell if Tomorrowish will come up in conversation for acquisition by Twitter, depending on the microblogging platform’s interest in this idea.