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Hand Eye wants your smartphone to watch TV with you

Interactive video company pulls the interaction from the big screen and onto the small one.

Jonathan Kessler, CEO of Hand Eye Interactive Rafe Needleman/CNET

I'll be paying special attention to Hand Eye Technologies when the company gives its pitch at DemoFall 09 at about 10:40 a.m. PDT Tuesday. This company, as I said in "What to Watch," is trying to close the loop between television and the Internet, by using smartphones as secondary, interactive screens for people when they're watching typical broadcast shows.

As CEO Jonathan Kessler explained to me Monday night, the first step to making this work is to enable your smartphone to know what you're watching. First, you need special technology in your TV or set-top box. It knows what the screen is displaying and whether it's live or playing off a DVR or DVD. Then your phone needs to know what you're interested in that's showing on your TV.

One way to do this is to have the smartphone actually watch the TV with you. When you see something you like--something you want to buy, learn more about, share with friends, etc.--you press a button on the phone that communicates with the set-top, which causes the screen on your TV to overlay, briefly, some colored squares on the display that your phone's camera picks up. It can then tell what you were pointing your phone at and take you to the next step in your interaction with the content.

Hand Eye Technologies requires an app on the smartphone as well as on a box connected to the TV. Hand Eye Technologies

What's interesting about this is that Hand Eye Interactive Technology (HIT) takes the interaction off the main TV display and pulls it onto the personal, mobile, and much smarter display on users' phones. The TV isn't forced to become an interactive terminal, and the interaction a user has with content on his or her personal phone won't disrupt a viewing experience for anyone else watching the main show on the big screen.

Kessler said the technology could be generalized to work with any content on TV, but that the business model is to sell the platform to TV studios so they can embed it in individual smartphone apps they build for shows or networks. A shopping channel app is the most obvious example (Kessler is in talks with one of the networks) since it would enable commerce, but apps for other networks or even individual shows could work. For example, a Discovery Channel app could use HIT technology to kick off games or educational content (or DVD sales) on the smartphone.

The business also requires that set-top boxes (and network DVRs) get the core HIT technology embedded in them. Technically, this is simple. From a business perspective, I can only wish Kessler the best of luck. He will probably need it.

For HIT to succeed several different elements have to line up. But that high level of difficulty is also a barrier to entry, something that many Web-only businesses don't have.