Novel Effect and The Jim Henson Company Team Up for Voice Interactive Storybooks and TV Shows
Voice tech startup Novel Effect is partnering with The Jim Henson Company to combine Novel Effect’s enhanced storytelling platform with Henson’s characters and published material. The two companies are beginning the collaboration by adding some of Henson’s children’s books to the Novel Effect mobile app, but with ambitious plans for interactive television programs already in the works.
Novel Effect’s mobile app uses speech recognition technology to bring music, sound effects, voices, and other audio flourishes to a story, following along with the reader to play the sounds at the appropriate moment. There are hundreds of stories available and more added all the time. Now, that list includes stories starring Henson’s intellectual property from TV shows including Dinosaur Train, Fraggle Rock, Sid the Science Kid, and Word Party. The customized soundscapes can be played whether the book is read on the Novel Effect app or from a physical copy.
Novel Effect has built up a catalog of about 750 books since Melissa and Matthew Hammersley founded the company nearly six years ago, . with around 10 new ones added every week. The company picked up momentum in 2017 when Amazon chose Novel Effect to join its first Alexa Accelerator program. The startup has raised nearly $5 million from investors since, starting with $640,000 from Amazon and interested angel investors, then a $3 million round in early 2018 and another $1.2 million in the middle of 2019. Novel Effect even garnered an offer on Shark Tank from Lori Greiner before ultimately turning down the deal.
The Jim Henson Company, an icon of education and entertainment thanks to decades of Muppets and Sesame Street. That it chose to team up with Novel Effect on such a long and involved project will likely add some cachet to the app. It’s easy to imagine a parent hesitating over downloading Novel Effect deciding to do so when they spot Fraggle Rock on the list of titles. The partnership will add hundreds of titles to Novel Effect’s collection eventually, including new books exclusively published on the app.
“Partnering with Novel Effect on this innovative project will bring our fans new ways to interact with their favorite characters and stories,” Stephanie Wise, director of digital and interactive media at The Jim Henson Company said in a statement. “Through the magic of Novel Effect’s unique voice technology, families can explore lessons of friendship, overcoming adversity, and the power of curiosity together in an exciting new format.”
Books are only the first arena for collaboration between Novel Effect and The Jim Henson Company. The two companies are planning to release voice interactive television shows through multiple streaming services next year. Novel Effect has been experimenting with the format for a while, creating short demonstrations of what watching the shows would be like in short episodes of available to watch and interact with online and in a beta test for mobile devices.
Novel Effect had planned to distribute a dozen shows to streaming TV providers in a package reaching 53 million homes over the summer. Like so many 2020 plans, Novel Effect’s video service ended up delayed by the pandemic. The silver lining is that Henson and Novel Effect are planning to produce hundreds of episodes in the voice-driven format eventually. The in-house production will be very limited, however, with most of the show developed by outside media brands. Novel Effect’s path to expanding its technology from books to video, and beyond may be smoother now that it can bring The Jim Henson Company’s along as a partner.
“Our mission is to empower kids and their grown-ups to read, listen, and have fun together every day through storytelling,” Novel Effect CEO Matt Hammersley said in a statement. “Generations of families, teachers, and children have been inspired by The Jim Henson Company’s legacy. We really can’t imagine a better fit for our families and educators.”