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Wii U will have interactive TV, thanks to Utah's i.TV

Published October 9, 2012 7:32 pm

Tech • Nintendo's video game console will use company's software to advance interactive viewing.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • With the help of a Provo company, Nintendo's next-generation video game console will turn TV into TVii.

The Japanese gaming giant has partnered with Provo-based i.TV to develop a television service for its upcoming Nintendo Wii U console that not only will allow couch potatoes to watch television but also to interact with it.

The service is called Nintendo TVii and it will be a new feature in the Wii U console, which will be released to stores Nov. 18 for $299.

Earlier this year, i.TV, which sits on the third floor of the historic Knight Block Building on Provo's Center Street, was asked to design the television service and software for the console, allowing users to control their television with the Wii U's controller.

Unlike the wand controller that gamers waved in front of the original Wii video game console, the new Wii U uses a game pad with a 6.2-inch touchscreen. Nintendo TVii turns that game pad and its second screen into a television remote in which users can get the television grid, organize their shows into favorites, and see instant information on what they're watching — from real-time statistics on the football game to descriptions of important moments during a sitcom.

"We had a good sense for how people connect with TV," said i.TV chief executive, Brad Pelo, on how his company was chosen by Nintendo over dozens of competitors. "We were able to demonstrate the maturity of our thinking."

Here's how Nintendo TVii works:

Once users connect the Wii U to a television set, they can control their cable or satellite box or TV tuner with the game pad. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon's Prime Instant Video service are also integrated into the Wii U and can be accessed from the game pad if the user subscribes to them.

While watching TV, users can search for a program or movie they want to watch. On the game pad's touchscreen, information is displayed about what the episode is about and whether it's playing live or if it can be watched through Amazon, Netflix or Hulu. The service also works with TiVo digital video recorders, so users can record a program through the game pad or begin playback of a recorded program. For now, it works only with TiVo, but Pelo hopes it will eventually work with other brands of DVRs.

Displaying information on shows and movies is only half of what Nintendo TVii offers. The service also has built-in social networking features. While watching a program, one-sentence plot descriptions come up on the touchscreen during important scenes. Viewers with the Wii U can then comment about those watercooler moments, tweet something about them or even initiate a poll. They also can call up more information about an actor from the Internet Movie Database or they can go to a retailer's website to purchase something related to the program. For example, fans of "American Idol" could push a button to go to a website and purchase songs or other merchandise from the show.

For sports fans, the game pad displays the scores of all the live games under way. Viewers then touch on which game they want to watch. During the broadcast, the touchscreen displays the game's statistics, and viewers can comment or tweet about the plays as they happen.

"We wanted to make watching TV more simple and fun by bringing together what we watch and how we watch into one, seamless second-screen experience on [our] GamePad," said Zach Fountain, Nintendo's director of Network Business Development. "It will transform how we find, watch and engage with TV shows, movies and sports."

Pelo said Nintendo TVii is a culmination of what i.TV has been doing since the company got its start in 2008 with the two-man team of Pelo — a former movie producer who made the sports film, "Forever Strong" — and company co-founder Justin Whittaker. The company made an iPhone app that was one of the first mobile apps to allow users to watch television programs on demand. Since then, i.TV has grown to a total of 15 employees, 12 of them engineers, and it's expanding thanks to the Nintendo contract.

"We're hiring," Whittaker said. "We were already on a growth trajectory, but this has accelerated it."

The company has developed mobile and Web-based software and services for AOL and Entertainment Weekly so users can watch TV shows with integrated social networking features.

For more than a decade, software developers such as Microsoft and TV manufacturers have tried to usher in an era of "interactive" television but have come up short. Pelo believes that Nintendo's idea of a second screen for the Wii U controller can help viewers explore a new way of watching TV.

In fact, people already are accustomed to using second screens while watching television. According to a multinational Nielsen study from April, 88 percent of tablet owners and 86 percent of smartphone owners said they used their mobile devices while watching TV at least once during the month, and 45 percent of Americans say they use their devices while watching TV daily. The study stated that viewers were mostly reading their email but were also looking up content related to the programs they were watching.

"Interactive TV will come of age," Pelo said. "If the solution just helps you find what to watch on TV, then it's a big win."

Nintendo TVii, he added, "clearly defines this original vision that Justin and I had."

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi