Start-up of the Week A TV Genie to Grant All Your Viewing Wishes

Forget fruitless channel surfing: the Israeli start-up Jinni serves up a list of film and TV recommendations to match your mood.

Inbal Orpaz
Inbal Orpaz
Inbal Orpaz
Inbal Orpaz

It's one of the major modern dilemmas of the bored media consumer: so many films and TV shows to choose from but, on any given night, "nothing looks good." Thankfully, the new Israeli start-up Jinni has some recommendations for you.

In addition to its technological advancements, Jinni, co-founded in 2007 by Yosi Glick, also reimagines the way movies are categorized. It rejects the limited genres ("comedy," "drama") that have defined entertainment for decades and has developed instead an extensive list of tags that capture a film's identity, like "witty," "bittersweet" and "mind bending."

Jinni (a play on the word "genie") uses an algorithm to track consumer preference patterns based on viewing history, responses to what you watch and by analyzing the content you regularly select. It's often been called the "Pandora of movies," referring to the popular music site that similarly recommends songs and artists based on a user's stated musical interest, mood or past favorites.

Now Jinni is going a step further, recently unveiling a new feature at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that lets users converse with the system and talk to it like a personal media concierge. For example, you might say: “I am sitting here with my husband after 9PM, and we feel like watching a witty romantic movie, but we’re fed up with Woody Allen.” Jinni, working off an engine that recognizes speech, translates it into text and then processes the request, will soon offer up films that don't involve neurotic, rambling New Yorkers.

Early in its development, Jinni’s technology was used in online and mobile applications to complement consumers TV watching habits. This year, for the first time, the technology was incorporated into modems used by the Swiss telecom company Swisscom and on individual iPads that can serve as a personal TV remote control, allowing users to switch channels through a digital modem built into the application. The detection, search and recommendations are pulled from the content available to each consumer from his or her cable provider as well as from web content providers such as Amazon.

Among Jinni’s clients are multichannel TV companies like Comcast as well as internet-based TV service providers like Netflix and Amazon. At the CES exhibition, Jinni also revealed a long list of impressive new clients, including Time Warner Cables, Walmart’s internet TV company Vudu, the French cable provider Bouygues Telecom and Singapore TV provider Sing Tel.

In addition, Jinni is collaborating with major content providers such as Microsoft, which has incorporated Jinni’s technology into its popular Xbox video game console. In the past, Jinni was also a strategic partner with Google in the development of Google TV. This impressive list of partners suggests some aggressive global growth.

Jinni is also hooking up with manufacturers too: Korean company LG is one of the investors in Jinni and unconfirmed reports by knowledgeable sources say that the recommendation engine S-Recommendation, shown by Samsung at the latest CES exhibition, is based on Jinni technology.

As media content steadily increases, providers need new tools to differentiate it and entice viewers. The era of flipping through channels is coming to an end and Jinni is part of a wave of innovations that are hammering the final nail in that coffin.

Jinni currently employs 30 workers and has raised $7.5 million to date from Belgian cable company Belgacom, Korean TV manufacturer LG and venture capital companies DFJ Gotham and Tamir Fishman.

Reach out and don't touch your TV remote.Credit: Adi Emanuel

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