Viewers overwhelmed by the number of streaming television services and endless content that they can’t keep track of are getting some help managing it all from Scener, a Seattle-based startup.
The company known for adding a social layer to streaming TV viewing with its “watch party” platform has a new iOS mobile app that enhances how viewers search for shows and learn what’s worth watching.
The app, unveiled Thursday, allows users to search across multiple streaming providers from one location, see what’s trending on those services and easily stream content from an iPhone direct to a television. The app also functions as a remote control.
The social component that Scener has built its following on remains intact with a two-screen experience, so users can stream content on the big screen while chatting with their friends, in sync, on their iPhone.
Scener CEO David Baron, who took the helm six months ago after 14 years at Hulu, called the new app a “one-stop solution that makes finding, viewing and sharing content as intuitive as it is engaging.”
In a virtual demo for GeekWire this week, Baron launched the app from his iPhone, searched for a show and started automatically playing that show on a Roku TV without casting or cables. Scener says more TV device partners are on the way.
“I think it’s going to change the Scener user a lot because now we’re becoming a much greater utility for people,” Baron said. “I always saw social viewing as something that was fun, but it wasn’t the end game. The end game for me was search across all your content services, trending content across all your services. The next steps will be social content discovery.”
In Baron’s view, that type of content discovery — this show is being watched by these friends or this friend is watching these shows — is much more powerful than an algorithm.
Scener was spun out of RealNetworks in 2018 and raised $2.1 million in seed funding in 2020. There are eight full-time employees and Baron’s next goal beyond product work is to raise a Series A funding and build out the team.
The company’s traditional platform relies on a free Google Chrome extension which allows anyone to host a screening and invite friends to watch TV and movies together. Scener is averaging over 5 million minutes a day of shared viewing over the past quarter and hosting over 700,000 social viewing events each month.
“I think the mobile app is going to blow up these numbers,” Baron said.
Keep reading for a quick Q&A with Baron, edited for length and clarity:
GeekWire: How has it been going from running a singular streaming service like Hulu to this scenario you’re in now where you’re focused on multiple platforms?
Baron: “I would have thought two or three years ago that we would have seen a re-aggregation of content. A lot of things that I did at Hulu were heading in that direction — the ability to have HBO, Showtime, Stars, inside of Hulu, was sort of a model for that aggregation. The market obviously changed. All of the big media companies launching their own direct-to-consumer services ended up siloing all of these services. The irony is that it made the consumer’s life harder. … Too many services, too many interfaces, too many dongles, too many remote controls. I think we have a chance to make it better.”
GW: Do you think that glut of services is playing into what’s happening with Netflix and their loss of subscribers?
Baron: “I think everybody was working on the same premise, which is that consumers want choice and control. And indeed all these services give them that but in a way that is too difficult to manage. My wife and I sit down to watch TV and we look at what’s on Hulu, we look at what’s on Disney, what’s on Netflix, what’s on HBO and a half an hour passes and we haven’t watched anything yet. Or someone says, ‘Hey, what about that show? What service is it on? I don’t remember.’ You end up opening five different services. The big guys are so beholden to their own business models, that they’re not really making the consumer experience better.”
GW: Scener is still free, so how are you monetizing this?
Baron: “As they say in the VC world, we’re pre-revenue still. I see a lot of different avenues for monetization. We’ve done a number of promotional events that are actually generating some revenue. Given the hundreds of millions of minutes of engagement that we see every month, this is an advertising opportunity. That lends itself then to potentially charging for the service if you want to have an ad-free experience. I think if we did subscription, and I think it is a possibility, it would be an option, not the only option.”
GW: Who’s the competition?
Baron: “I think there are a lot of companies that are picking out pieces of this. There’s a number of companies, the JustWatches of the world, that are doing search across content. There are other companies like Likewise that are doing ‘my personal playlist’ and ‘how I share my playlist.’ But nobody is pulling it all together with the remote control functionality and the social viewing in one place. I have not seen anybody do holistically what we’re doing.”
GW: What are you currently binging, David?
Baron: “I’m binging ‘Tehran.’ I had watched most of the first season already but my wife hadn’t seen it, so we watched the first season together. Unfortunately, season two is being doled out week by week, and so we’re waiting for Friday when the next episode drops.”