Novel Effect Has a New Streaming Video On Demand Service for Kids That Will Be in 53 Million Homes This Summer

Novel Effect last week introduced a new voice interactive video format for children’s entertainment that enables viewers to participate by speaking aloud to move the stories along. The company released three examples of the new solution including Stupendous Drewpendous, Monster Heroes, and Cooking with Matt which you can view and interact with here using your web browser. The interactive videos are also available in Novel Effect’s Android mobile app and as a beta in iOS.

New Streaming Video On Demand Service

Novel Effect co-founder and CEO Matthew Hammersley spoke with Voicebot in an interview this week and revealed that these shows are part of a package of a dozen that will launch in 53 million homes during the summer of 2020. The distribution will be the result of agreements Novel Effect has secured with cable TV operators. The streaming video on demand (SVOD) service will also be available through over-the-top (OTT) streaming services such as Apple TV, Fire TV, as well as through mobile and web. Hammersley commented:

“We are trying to be the leader in voice-driven media and entertainment. We started with books. We’ve moved into video and will open up games next. Our core focus and differentiation is about an ambient experience. Our technology is about low-latency synchronization of media…in [devices] people already own. The answer isn’t that you do this inside an Echo Show. You do this inside your TV and smartphone.”

A couple of the new shows are being created in-house by Novel Effect. However, Hammersley said that the majority are being developed by well-known media brands that are using Novel Effect technology to transform them into interactive voice experiences.

Favorable User Response in Mobile App This Week

Novel Effect is best known for its mobile app which uses the microphone on a smartphone to track users reading aloud children’s stories. It augments the storytime experience with sound effects aligned with the story such as theme music, character voices, wind, closing doors, crashes, and other effects.

Hammersley said the app currently supports over 300 titles and the team is adding about 5 new stories per week. To date, the Novel Effect app has tallied over 2.5 million reading minutes by users, 150,000 downloads, and averages between 40,000-70,000 monthly active users. The actual user numbers may be much higher according to Hammersly as the app is popular for use on tablets in schools which often use a single login for the entire school. The company rolled out some versions of its new voice interactive video shows in the app last week and saw an average 78% completion rate and three times repeat viewing. These metrics are particularly impressive given the nearly 10-minute runtime for the shows.

Not Just for Children’s Entertainment

Hammersley revealed that the voice-driven video trial launch in the mobile app and even the SVOD rollout this summer are not the end goal but only part of the company’s strategy. The new services are designed to showcase the technology and demonstrate consumer interest in voice interactive entertainment experiences through video. This is the type of proof point many entertainment creators and studios are looking for in advance of greenlighting their own projects. “We need to have a direct-to-consumer presence to validate the market and show that consumers love this,” said Hammersley.

However, it appears that this validation may not be necessary for everyone in entertainment. After releasing the demonstration videos last week, the company received dozens of requests from filmmakers requesting meetings.

He also stressed that the technology has applications well beyond children’s programming. Hammersley confidentially demonstrated the technology to Voicebot in an early prototype in the fall of 2018, also depicting a show for children. Over the intervening 15 months, the company built out the technology so it could operate with low latency on a variety of devices, including cable set-top boxes that were as much as four years old. The team built the solution so that it would be easy for filmmakers to use and could be applied beyond children’s entertainment. Choose-your-own-adventure style games are an obvious extension. Books were phase one, video and games are phases two and three, and there are other applications to follow.

Novel Effect Fund Raising Keeps Rising

Novel Effect has raised $4.8 million to date according to Hammersley. In 2017, the company raised $640,000 from angel investors and the Alexa Fund as part of its participation in the first Alexa Accelerator. That was followed by a $3 million round in March 2018 led by Alpha Edison, TenOneTen and Waverley Capital. Another $1.2 million was raised during the summer of 2019 from existing investors. This is the first public disclosure of the 2019 funding event. The company is currently in the process of raising a new round to fund the creation of additional shows, push the technology forward into games, and market the SVOD launch this year.

Hammersley added that interactive television has long been a goal of the entertainment industry but the technology is only now making it feasible. Even if you could do this on mobile devices in the past, getting it to work on cable set-top boxes and inside of browsers is new. “We’re bringing the element of active play into a traditionally passive experience. By blending voice, literacy, and video kids take a key role in a story, speaking to characters and for the first time, getting a response.”

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