Tele, a startup led by the co-founder of Pluto TV, is making a novel attempt to promote its dual-screen smart TV sets.
Emerging from a 24-month secrecy period, the company says it will offer its first 500,000 mass-produced models to consumers for free when they begin shipping this summer. Tele founder and CEO Ilya Pozin told Deadline in an interview that the 55-inch set, which features 4K HDR picture quality and a built-in premium sound bar, will retail for more than $1,000.
Tele says that it is bringing the first dual screen smart TV to the market. Below the main panel, a small screen is a conduit for sports scores, news, weather, display ads, and other supplemental information. The bottom screen may also go black, for example when a movie is playing on the big screen.
The free gift is an attempt to upend the prevailing business model in streaming and make advertising completely fund the device itself. “TVs have become a commodity,” said Pozin. “What happens when a category becomes a commodity? It’s a race to the bottom on price. There’s very little margin to make on hardware.” Over time, he went on, smart TVs have become “significantly underpowered.” They’re the biggest screens in our house, but they’re as silent as an ATM machine.” Instead of making TVs at affordable prices, the telly has targeted the high end of the market. Following the rollout of the 55-inch set, the larger expected to follow.
Investors in the telly, which launched two years ago, include Lightshade Partners and Wyner Media, and Ryan Reynolds-backed connected-TV advertising firm MNTN has partnered with the company. The principals haven’t said exactly how much money they’ve raised, though they say the valuation after the raise will be in the nine-figure range. The hope is to emulate the trajectory of Pluto, which Pozin founded with Tom Ryan in 2013 and sold to Viacom six years later for $340 million. While the acquisition price seemed hefty at the time, it has turned into a steal as Pluto has become a multibillion-dollar pillar of Paramount Global’s streaming portfolio, which is now overseen by Ryan.
Keeping up with the challenging economics in the hardware business, smart-TV players like Samsung, Vizio and LG have turned to free, ad-supported streaming television. [FAST], Tele’s strategy differs from theirs in that it is not promoting its own streaming ecosystem. Instead, it’s a living-room hub for thousands of apps — video streaming, of course, but also videoconferencing, music, fitness, gaming, and other categories. A video chat feature enables the lower screen to gather a group of friends or family and synchronize their collective view of a game, event or movie on the main screen.
Posin referenced the iPhone several times during a 30-minute demo presented to Deadline in New York, saying that the tele aimed to be as disruptive to the streaming marketplace as Apple’s device was when it was first introduced. Never-needed items such as digital cameras, GPS devices, and others were quickly made obsolete. Telly believes that instead of fumbling with their phones, viewers will be able to access an array of supplemental information without having to focus their attention on another screen. The rapidly growing but uniquely fragmented streaming advertising sector deserves additional attention from advertisers.
Of course, there will be tradeoffs by those signing up for the free tel in terms of agreeing to surrender some data, but Pozin said the company has tried to prioritize consumer privacy. The smart-TV sector has seen other breaches over the years, with Vizio being fined $2.2 million in 2017 after federal regulators found the company’s data practices were deceptive. TV data firm Alphonso was also reported to have accessed audio inputs from viewers without adequate disclosure.
“Everything is very transparent with our consumers,” Pouzin said of Tele. “Everything is opt-in. We don’t shove things into long Terms of Service contracts. You know exactly what you’re getting into. We stay above-board.
Any cable or satellite TV input can be connected to the tell through its three HDMI ports. The set also comes with a 4K Android TV Streaming Stick. Users can also plug in connected devices from Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or other providers (another point of difference with existing smart TV manufacturers, which focus on keeping viewers within their operating systems). .
“While everyone talks about smart TVs, the reality is that TVs have not changed dramatically over the past few decades and the dream of truly interactive TV has never materialized,” said Lightshade general partner and veteran media analyst Richard Greenfield said. “Tele is a huge leap forward, taking advantage of the explosion of the connected TV advertising market and consumers’ desire for more control and interactivity that doesn’t disrupt the TV viewing experience.”
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of Vayner Media, said he believes the tele will help his firm’s clients “create an entirely new form of brand engagement that is truly valued by their consumers.” Mark Douglas, CEO and founder of MNTN, made similar comments. “Brands will be able to take their display marketing strategy seriously – right there on the biggest screen in the home,” he said.