In this the first of a series of stories profiling presenting companies at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s annual Tech Venture conference, OtherScreen CEO Chris Halligan says his firm has a new vision for the future of television. 

What is your “elevator pitch” you will use at the CED Tech Venture Conference?

Short Version: OtherScreen is a software platform that broadcasters use to drive increased audience engagement with live television. OtherScreen is also an app and a website that makes watching TV into a social game for the audience.

Less short but possibly more interesting version: The Internet is changing television in at least two significant ways:

a) Internet distribution of television and movie content is driving people towards convenience viewing versus live viewing. We are at the tip of that iceberg. Netflix served over one billion (!) hours of streamed commercial free video in June and that’s just Netflix. Broadcasters and content creators will eventually have to address that change in audience behavior.

b) The Internet offers a multitude of highly engaging competitors to live television (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, that blog you read, that game you like, that news aggregation site and your favorite message board) that the audience can go to any time they want.

In today’s world, broadcasters, show runners and marketers need to provide their audiences with a maximally engaging experience in order to sustain their competitive advantage. OtherScreen is the best way for broadcasters to give their audience a highly engaging, social, second screen experience.

What is the “secret sauce” of your firm that sets you apart?

Two things set OtherScreen apart: The highly engaging nature of our product and the quality of our team.

Our product causes audience members to watch 70% of a live broadcast, non-time shifted and including the ads (averaging 50 engagements per user per show!).

OtherScreeners willingly watch for long durations because OtherScreen delivers an engaging, fun, real time mobile experience alongside live interesting, engaging broadcast television events. We’re a natural fit that creates higher audience engagement.

Our team is made up of smart, motivated, fun professionals. Garth founded Jigsaw and is determined and fearless. Andrew and Jim are awesome engineers who understand customers and business objectives. Mike possesses boundless energy and an abiding affection for our user community and for television. We also have amazing investors. I contribute by having a car that we can all fit in at lunchtime.

Do you have a motto/slogan that you feel captures the energy/mission of your firm?

OtherScreen is more fun with TV.

Our whole team likes television but, as software technology startup people, we can all see that the audience is changing. If a show slows down or an ad break is annoying, audiences have tons of options they didn’t have just a few years ago.

They can see what their friends are up to on Twitter or Facebook, they can check into a game on Zynga, they can press pause on a DVR or they can just opt out of the whole system and stream commercial free on any of a number of services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, or Apple TV.

That’s a problem for broadcasters and content creators. They already offer great entertainment but, in today’s competitive landscape, they have to offer more if they want people to continue to consume that content on live television, which is where they make the bulk of their revenue.

OtherScreen is a simple way for broadcasters to offer an engaging extension of their content and their brand. And people that OtherScreen watch live, non-time shifted and including the advertising. Added bonus: people who OtherScreen TV shows also enjoy their experience more than people who don’t.

Who are your “heroes” in business? How are you trying to emulate them?

Personally, I have a lot of admiration for Michael Dell. In 1990, it was easy to find people who were skeptical about both the growth of the personal computer market and the willingness of the market to buy pc’s direct.

Michael had a vision, stuck to his model and built an amazing company, even when there were tough times and critics outnumbered fans.

Whenever I hear someone say, “Television’s not going anywhere”, I always remember how people said “You never get fired for buying IBM”. By 2000, no one was buying IBM computers. Michael saw that early.

What triggered your initial thoughts about launching a company? How has that original thinking/goal changed or evolved since your launch?

I first considered the idea of OtherScreen by watching my own teenaged kids and observing their interaction with television in the mobile era. In general, they engage more deeply with their mobile device than they do with television. I though their behavior represented a trend that would grow. Simply, people are less inclined to settle in and “watch what’s on” than they were even five years or five months ago.

If anything, I believe in our vision more now than when we started. The biggest challenge for us has been the relatively latency within the television industry itself at recognizing or reacting to these trends. That may be connected to the absence of easy to use platforms for driving second screen engagement. That’s the hole that OtherScreen fills.

Even so, there’s a fair amount of confidence that “television’s not going anywhere” in the market. That’s not normally a great long term strategy. Just ask the corded telephone in your home.

Why did you choose to launch a company in what has been a difficult economic environment since 2008?

We launched because we had a good idea and a good team addressing a good market. The macro-economic climate didn’t really enter into my decision making very much. Good teams can create their own momentum, independent of the times.

What is the business “need” you are seeking to address? What problem do you solve, and for whom?

OtherScreen helps broadcasters, show runners and marketers increase engagement with live television – live, non-time shifted and including the ads.

For TV fans, OtherScreen makes television watching more interactive, more social and more fun.

What products are you offering/planning to offer? Please describe each briefly.

For broadcasters, we have a software platform that allows them to offer a high quality, branded second screen offering on their own web property with a minimum of hassle and setup. If you run a show and want a second screen experience, we can have you up and running for your next airing.

For TV fans, we offer a fun, interactive, social, gamified experience that goes along with interesting shows and television events. Watching TV with OtherScreen is more fun than just sitting there.

Why do you believe investors should be interested in your firm?

We’re in a huge market. We have a great product. We have early customers who are succeeding and our team is made up of successful, experienced entrepreneurs who are committed both to our vision and to each other.

How much funding are you seeking, if any, and how would the funding be used?

We had a first close on an A round in April of this year but we’re open to taking another $500K to $1M from the right kind of investors. We’re using our capital to build product, support our customers and grow through expanding sales and marketing.

How much funding have you raised to date? How much funding in grants (please specify)? Who are your investors?

We had a first close on an A round in April. We also won an NC IDEA grant last summer. Our lead investor is G-51 Capital of Austin, Texas. We also have money from VCI Partners in Charlotte and a local angel who ran NASCAR media for a long time. Garth and I are also investors.

Are you hiring at the present time, and if so how many positions are you looking to fill?

We’re not hiring per se but we are always on the lookout for people who are passionate about particular television shows (specifically news or reality) or sports teams that would like to DJ demo events for us on our platform.

Community DJ’s produce stunningly good content and engagement experiences when they use our platform. Anyone who wants to try their hand at being a DJ can email Mike or me directly and we can get them sorted.

(Note: The CED Tech Venture Conference 2012 will showcase more than 70 of North Carolina’s hottest technology companies. The Conference includes keynote addresses from Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and current chairman of Startup America Partnership, and Mark Templeton, president and CEO of Citrix. A large investor crowd will be in attendance, with investors from Andreessen Horowitz, Canaan Partners, EMC Ventures, IBM Ventures, and many, many more.)