If TV was invented today, what would it look like? That's the question posed by Magine, a Stockholm-based startup that's adjusting the TV.
To put it simply, Magine (think: imagine) is a cloud TV operator. And it's about time we got one. That cable going to the back of your box is nothing compared to the wonders of the internet, and instead of leaving you with the functions available to your three-year-old DVR box, Magine can deliver an awesome TV experience through the cloud, allowing you to do live or catch-up TV on your smart TV, smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Magine comes from a tech-focused background mixed with the TV industry. On the technical side, part of their team has been involved in Voddler, the largest VOD player in Scandinavia, Hot Sip, a session initiation protocol company bought by Oracle, and a number of other streaming technologies.
On the other side Magine has a very "broadcast-focused DNA" in the company. Their chairman started TV3, the first free-to-air channel in Sweden, and some of their talent has a background in large UK and Spanish broadcasters. Magine seems to be following in Spotify's example in the sense that they're not trying to push the limits of copyrights, but rather are working with the traditional players in the industry.
"We have a team of very good content people that speak the same language that broadcasters want to hear and speak. And that's very important because we're not internet cowboys who are trying to steal lunch away from the content owners. What we are is merely a distribution channel for broadcasters," says a representative from the Magine Team.
They make the point that the television value-chain is not necessarially broken, considering that right now is probably one of the best times in history as far as TV content goes. Instead, they see Magine as adding value and solving a distribution problem while working within the confines of the industry.
"What we wanted to do is free up people from watching content across time, and free up people when it comes to devices."
The service hits the "oh this is really cool" factor from the first moment you start playing with it. It's like a nice DVR, and the touch or click features available on a smartphone, tablet or laptop make the directory of programs much more accessible to dig through.
Logging into Magine pops you up in real time, where you can see what's playing at the moment. But time is relative. Magine allows you to dig into nearly anywhere in the past by scrolling backwards or picking the day you want to see television from. So if you missed your Thursday evening sitcoms, it's just two clicks or taps away.
Magine can also do content discovery better than your 3 year old DVR. Using the discover features you can dig through categories - like if you get home from work you might like to watch a comedy or documentary rather than dig by channel. On your tablet, content discovery becomes very visual with title screens that take you to clips of the show.
As you expected, how far back in time Magine can travel is a matter of copyright. From the technology standpoint they can go back in time forever, but typically public broadcasters have rights to the content they air for 7-28 days, while private broadcasters usually are allowed 7 days of re-broadcasting. Other channels, like National Geographic, own all their content, so hypothetically Magine could allow them to put their whole content library online.
Perhaps one of the most valuable features Magine can do is allow your tablet or smartphone to act as a remote for browsing television. You can have the screen up on your smart TV or computer, and browse through the listings naturally with your thumb, or do the standard channel up/down function. I've got a demo version on my phone and I'm forever spoiled - I can't go back to my clunky remote and "guide" button anymore.
The way you sync it up is also easy as can be. You just navigate to the pair function, and use your smartphone or tablet's camera to find the QR code that pops up. After you do that, you've got an awesome remote or second screen.
Magine is soon launching with two tiers. The way the TV market works (even for standard broadcasters) is there are free-to-air TV channels, which include public broadcasters, as well as paid channels.
The company is offering for free the free-to-air channels already paid for by collective liscensing fees. Then of course there is the paid tier, which they allow you to be more flexible with than your standard cable operator. So if you want a sports channel, you could grab that, but you don't have to pay for the Disney Channel if you don't have any use for it.
"We want to unbundle as much as we can - as much as broadcasters allow us to. And we don't lock you in, we just have a 30 day recurring credit card period. And you can cancel at any time. There are a lot of advantages that come because you've gotten rid of your television infrastructure," says a representative of the Magine team.
Their test market is currently Sweden, but their first phase of internationalization is the larger European TV markets.
From here there are also a number of ways for Magine as a service to grow. They're calling this launch just a "first edition", and they have plans on adding more content along the way in the next few months. On top of that, the app is getting polished, and they're adding more search features and a more refined user experience.
Stockholm is obviously doing something right when it comes to new takes media distribution. Spotify isn't the only streaming player in town.