If you think about it, television can be kind of boring. You turn on the TV and watch something from beginning to end. There’s no ability to interact with the movie or gameshow you’re viewing.
In the age of Internet-connected devices, that will soon change, predicts Jason Cianchette, a serial entrepreneur in Portland who previously founded and then sold Liquid Wireless in 2008 to Publishers Clearing House for an undisclosed amount of cash.
And he wants his new startup, Huzzapp, to be at the forefront of this sea change.
I wrote about Cianchette and Huzzapp at the end of December when the startup was still in stealth mode. From clues gathered around the Internet (Cianchette’s LinkedIn profile, Huzzapp’s CrunchBase profile, Twitter) I was able to piece together a picture of what Cianchette’s new startup was trying to do. I concluded that Huzzapp “will produce native apps and, perhaps, tools for content creators to develop interactive videos and games for the iPad.”
Turns out I wasn’t far off.
Huzzapp made its public debut on Tuesday with its first interactive video app, called Huzzapp Daily Trivia. The app, which is currently only available for Apple’s iPad, allows users to play an interactive trivia game show. Two hosts — both local Portland actors — ask players trivia questions from a range of topics. As you answer the multiple-choice questions, the host tells you if you’re right or wrong in the next video clip.
The user experience is seamless and I suspect most people will play the game without putting much thought into how the video clips are spliced together. To create the app, Cianchette and his team filmed 800 different segments. All the video clips — one of the host responding to each answer players could select — are stored on Amazon servers and the app restitches those clips together based on how the user interacts with the game.
“It’s one of the elements I’m very proud of,” Cianchette told me Tuesday morning not too long after making the Huzzapp Daily Trivia go live on Apple’s App Store. “When you play the app, it flows very naturally from one element to another.”
As far as Cianchette knows, Huzzapp Daily Trivia is unique on the app store — a rarity in itself with more than a million apps out there — because it is the only app with interactive, live-action video.
“Just to create something new in the App Store is a trick on its own,” he says.
Cianchette believes the backend technology Huzzapp has created has valuable applications far beyond game apps. In fact, that was his goal from the beginning. While cool, the trivia app is just a minimum viable product to move the company toward a much bigger objective: developing a technology platform that allows producers to create interactive video content.
“That’s the long-term ambition,” Cianchette says.
In other words, Cianchette wants nothing less than to revolutionize your television viewing experience.
As more people begin to watch television on Internet-connected devices, the possibilities that opens up from a technology standpoint are endless. Watching video content — will “television” become an outdated term? — on connected devices will become a whole new experience. Cianchette sees applications for Huzzapp’s technology in all kinds of video content, from gameshows to dramas to murder mysteries.
“You could use the same technology we built and make a murder mystery show, where you’re at a dinner on the second floor, you hear a scream. You could choose to go upstairs or downstairs…” Cianchette says.
In my mind, I immediately likened what Cianchette wants to do with bringing Choose Your Own Adventure books, which I loved as a kid, to the screen.
Cianchette doesn’t see Huzzapp as an app developer or a game developer. He really sees it as a technology company that has developed a platform that will allow for a new type of interactive experiences. Cianchette plans to take his concept to video producers and storytellers and find collaborators to create more interactive video content.
“We wouldn’t just ship them software or a link. We’d roll up our sleeves and come at it from a technology standpoint, and they’d be storytellers coming at it from a video standpoint,” Cianchette says as he describes what he believes these future collaborations will look like.
So far, Huzzapp has no full-time employees. Everyone who worked on Huzzapp Daily Trivia, the creation of which Cianchette self-funded, was a contractor. Ultimately, though, Cianchette sees Huzzapp hiring employees and even creating a video production studio in Portland.
As a CEO, Cianchette says one of his favorite things to do is bring together people with different skill sets. For the creation of Huzzapp Daily Trivia, for example, Cianchette brought together an iOS developer, a backend computer programmer, a graphic designer, a marketing person, a camera man, a producer, a casting director, a makeup artist and, of course, the acting talent. That’s a group of people who normally wouldn’t be working together, he says.
“For this next project, what happens if you get horror storyteller, an app developer and a designer all in a room?” Cianchette asks. “What would they come up with?”
I, for one, look forward to finding out.