LeoNovus challenges Google, Yahoo with connected TV solution

Published on the Ottawa Business Journal website.
June 9, 2011

Click here to view this article on OBJ.ca.

Ottawa team to double or triple over next year

While the ability to browse the Internet from your television has been around since the 1990s, it’s mostly been a slow, crude, restrictive experience – and that’s something that LeoNovus (TSX-V:LTV) wants to change with its “secret sauce.”

“There’s now an entire generation of people watching TV with their laptops on their laps because you’ll want to show your family and friends something on YouTube and so on … and that’s so wrong when you’ve got that big (TV) display available,” says Dan Willis, the Ottawa-based chief architect of the Palo Alto, Calif. company, which opened the TSX Venture Exchange earlier this week.

LeoNovus is set to double or triple its seven-person Ottawa team within the next year as it begins to roll out the first incarnations of its product, a technology that allows people to access all of the Internet through their high-definition television sets in an intuitive manner. Mr. Willis says the solution provides an alternative to the “walled garden” environment provided by something like Yahoo Connected TV, which limits users to certain popular Internet applications and websites.

“Yahoo (TV) was an interesting introduction to the field, but they don’t have the secret sauce we have,” he says, pointing out that Yahoo’s product didn’t allow for a “customizable” experience, since it didn’t provide access to the entire web.

It’s something that Google tried to do when it launched its own smart TV offering last fall. However, Mr. Willis notes that Google TV was quickly blocked by several major television networks, with many observers speculating that it was because of the Internet behemoth’s specialized advertising model. As such, LeoNovus is hoping the networks will be attracted to the company’s promise to integrate broadcasters’ own ad networks into the connected TV solution.

“Everybody in the value chain can be involved,” says Mr. Willis of the opportunities afforded by LeoNovus’s approach to advertising.

And while there are Internet-ready gaming consoles available on the market that allow users to browse everything on the Internet, using their built-in browsers is often not a pleasant experience. The other option is for people to plug their laptops into their TVs, but then it’s a matter of fiddling with a keyboard and mouse, which is not an ideal solution for someone’s den or living room.

“People want to just use their remote or smartphone … our solution is as easy to use as a telephone or normal traditional television,” Mr. Willis says.

And it’s the right time to come out with TV-based browsing technology, he says; compare the early environment for predecessors such as WebTV in the 1990s, when people were not doing much online besides e-mailing and were forced to endure slow download speeds and dial-up connections, with today’s powerful processors, the appetite for everything web-based, and actual watchable content online.

LeoNovus is starting to drum up interest for its solution, with five trials ongoing or in the process of being set up in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including a recently announced deal with the City of Stratford, Ont. Mr. Willis says the company is targeting a mix of customers that will include municipalities, large electronics retailers and telecommunications companies, and it’s preparing for its consumer launch with a beta rollout of its software off its website.

All this has meant a very busy past few months for LeoNovus, which also in November went public through a $5.8-million transaction with Ottawa-based capital pool company Work Horse Capital & Strategic Acquisitions Ltd., a deal that included a $3.14-million private placement. The firm, which currently employs about 20 people, is also hoping to expand its staff, largely here in Ottawa where its full development team is located. Mr. Willis says a support team will also soon be put in place locally, with LeoNovus’s California headquarters to remain fairly flat in terms of head count and focused on sales, marketing and administration.

Mr. Willis says that while LeoNovus will continue to maintain its Palo Alto head office to take advantage of media contacts and the connections to the gaming community in Silicon Valley, Ottawa will play a key role in the company’s operations. Not only will the development and support team be fully located in the National Capital Region, but LeoNovus also works with consultants from local firm BitHeads.

“The resources here in Silicon Valley North can’t be beat,” says Mr. Willis.

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