Billboard-controlling mobile app holds big marketing potential

A smartphone application which was recently used to essentially hijack and control digital bilboards in New York’s Time Square and Toronto’s Dundas St. Square has huge social networking and marketing potential, according to a Toronto-based technology expert.

“This demonstration illustrates the impact mobile devices are capable of having over much of human activities,” Hossein Rahnama, associate director Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone in Toronto told ITBusiness.ca.

Rahnama said the application can introduce another alternative method for people to connect and interact and as such would be a very attractive tool for businesses and marketers.

The application, called TubeMote, was developed by Adi Isakovic. It was primarily meant to allow people using a cell phone or computer to control YouTube video playback on another machine. The application is available for free download and works with Android devices, BlackBerry operating system 6.0+, Windows Mobile as well as iPhone, iPad and iPod devices. Users that log onto the TubeMote site and sign up for a free account can create their own video channel where they can create a personal playlist of YouTube videos using their mobile device or computer.

Up until last year, the service was sort of a intermediary that enabled mobile phone users to search for YouTube videos and play then play those videos on another machine or machines that are set up to access the user’s TubeMote URL. Later improvements to the API expanded the app’s capability to include: allowing user to scroll up and down a Web page; creating and sorting playlists; controlling presentations; and controlling video games.

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Last week, Adi and his wife Tania Nardandrea-Isakovic who have spent the last two years developing and promoting the product, took it another notch higher. To celebrate his 27th birthday, Isakovic used TubeMote and his iPhone to “hijack” one of the giant video screens above New York’s Times Square. (The developer had earlier bought an ad space from the agency that operates the video screen).

At 8 p.m. on March 22, a video of Cookie, Isakovic and Tania’s miniature French poodle, appeared on the 50’x100′ screen over Seventh Ave. and West 47th St. The clip was followed by a brief footage of the Isakovics’ honeymoon in Hawaii. Tania also used her iPhone to shoot a video of her husband and live stream it on the Internet. The video of Isakovic was projected onto the Time Square billboard via connection to TubeMote. The Isakovics were able to control the billboard through a browser connection facilitated by the app.

The stunt appeared to have been hardly noticed by passersby, but Isakovic’s demonstration was covered by several news outlets in the U.S. and Canada. A few days later, the Isakovics replicated the demonstration at Toronto’s Dundas St. Square. ITBusiness.ca tried to contact Isakovic but the developer could not be reached.

But in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Isakovic said he hopes that in the future there would be a lot more video services that TubeMote can control aside from YouTube clips.

He also expressed to the Gazette some need for caution: “It would be great if it could work where you could point (the device) at anything, but I think that would cause a lot of problems for people.”

To be sure there are some pros and cons about the application, according to Rahnama of the Digital Media Zone (DMZ). The DMZ, helps Ryerson students develop their technology concepts into viable products and marketable solutions.

Rahnama said that concerns about security and privacy will certainly accompany any application that enables users to post images freely onto other people’s machines. He said some people might be afraid that such a tool could facilitate what could be called digital vandalism. “The thought of just about anyone with a smartphone altering video displays on any screen could be disturbing.”

Rahnama, however, said that in the case of TubeMote, a sort of opt-in mechanism appears to be in place whereby the receiving machine needs to be set-up to access the TubeMote URL of the sender.

But Rahnama is also excited with the social and commercial implications of the technology. “This opens up a whole new way for people to connect with each other and offers marketing and business opportunities.”

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He envisions businesses buying ad space on large video screens that enable mobile phone users to post their own messages and images. “There could be a screen promoting a concert, or event or a club and people going there could post their Tweets, videos or invitations to friends to join them.”

Rahnama said TubeMote is among the many technologies exploring the ambient display concept. “Ambient display is a new area of consumer electronics characterized by their ability to be perceived by people and their ability to change their surroundings,” he explained.

Prior to Isakovic’s demonstrations, he said, a mobile application developed in Europe has been allowing users to post pictures onto a larger screen.

At Ryerson, students are also working on a social networking application called Comica that allows users to post “contextual information” on Web site which uses the data to create comic strip episodes of the user’s activities.

Another application allows Android smartphone users to alter the display lighting at the Ryeson Research Gallery with the mobile phone.Rahnama said the application which uses context aware computing has no name at the moment. The technology ties in user data, location information and pattern recognition.

“TubeMote is the latest and biggest demonstration of home mobile apps and devices are changing the way we interact with and view things around us,” said Rahnama.

In their brief 30-plus-year history, modern cell phones have managed to alter peoples’ behaviour and much of the way they conduct everyday chores, according to Chuck Martin, author of the book the Third Screen.

“In a brief period, cell phones and smart phones have spawned a generation of consumers who are so in tuned to doing multiple tasks at the same time, people conversing with different individuals in different modes at the same time and used to having information at their fingertips within seconds,” he said.

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Many businesses, he said, are too slow to discern or act on this new phenomenon. For instance, in a recent trip to an Indigo Bookstore in Toronto, Martin said he noticed that quite a large number of seated customers were preoccupied with operating their mobile phones rather than leafing through pages of books or magazines.

“This to me is a lost opportunity. With a better mobile marketing strategy, the store could have had those people mobile browsing Indigo products right inside the Indigo store,” said Martin.

Compared to mediums such as print, television and computers, Martin said mobile screens have the following characteristics:

  • It’s personal – People are always with their cellphone or smartphone
  • Multi-faceted communication – People can have voice, email, SMS or social net communications
  • Time, location, supply and demand advantage – Through technologies such as mobile payment, GPS and mobile browsing many products and services can be delivered to the user at the time and place that they need it
  • Mobile technology has a large install base – There are more than 24 million cell phones in Canada and half of the phone connections in the country is wireless
  • Ramp-up speed is fast – Developing and deploying mobile services and applications is fast

In marketing, mobile devices have overturned the traditional “push” scenario where marketers propel products towards consumers via radio, TV and print ads. “In the mobile world consumers are no longer waiting for marketers to tell them what they should buy. Consumers are the ones ‘pulling’ in information they want through the devices,” said Martin.

With ambient display technology, however, this scenario is about to change once more, according to Rahnama of Ryerson’s DMZ. “Mobile devices have become our portable profile container and now people are gaining the power to push out content to viewers when and where they want to.”

Nestor is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.

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