Hacks and Lulz of the HackDayParis Hackathon on Connected TV

Oct 23, 2012
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TV, quaint and asymetric communication medium, thou shaped the youth of many a hacker who attended the HackDayParis hackaton on Connected TV. Most of the hackers in attendance came from the web, so that would be about 50 peeps, with only two coming from TV as far as I noticed. This made for a very unusual hackathon as many came to discover what connected TVs were about under the hood. Also, many hadn’t exactly watched a whole lot of TV lately (curses be the interwebz).

Partners of this hackathon included France TV (the French public TV group with 6 channels), as well as Swiss movie torrenting service movies.io.This cultures clash gave hackers a few opportunities to snicker, but more on this in a bit. Like last year, Joshfire‘s Sylvain Zimmer and Steren Giannini were here from start to finish, organizing and making sure the hackers were well taken care of (and we were), while the Camping provided their space and goodwill for the event. Last but not least, we played with a few interesting APIs, and I got to know a bit better two cool startups, image recognition startup moodstocks, as well as Explee, a startup doing automated animation for videos that has great potential in education imho, among other fields of application.

Notable Hacks

There were 13 hacks presented (pitches in French here), with LinkedTV and Hyper-titles winning the jury’s vote at the sunday demos. LinkedTV used SPARQL to change the way viewers consume TV, but it’s Hyper-titles that was the real crowd-pleaser, with a very fun demo of their augmented watching experience. Imagine watching a movie and your phone flashing your face, showing an image, or starting to ring or vibrate, at moments where it’s going to make you scream in fear and/or delight, and you’ll get the idea.

Other notable hacks included E2TV (github repo here), which was my personal favourite. They integrated a bunch of web APIs to offer youtube etc on the TV set, and most of all they integrated with the movies.io API. This allowed them to offer something very close to a one click torrenting experience on TV. With a bit more work that means streaming torrents straight on your TV, which would quite a nice and hassle-free experience – that is, if you ignore the problem of copyright holders lawyers. There were a bunch of other interesting hacks, so go check out the hacks list if you haven’t already, and check this page for pics of the event.

Notable Lulz

All right, you’ve got to give it to the movies.io guys, they don’t display any love for censorship, as evidenced by what their API can do, and certainly didn’t censor themselves during the event, with Amos Wenger calling out repeatedly Eric Scherer, France TV’s representative, on remarks or stuff like jokes that the cops were coming because everyone was using copyrighted materials at the demos without proper authorization. Or just poking fun at the general hypocrisy and senselessness around rights enforcement. With Hadopi and all the DPI-lovers that this law and the like have in tow, I basically wanted to hug the guy.

France TV’s Eric Scherer didn’t have it easy with the crowd, and he got more than he bargained for when he half-jokingly said that it seemed like the hackers didn’t watch much TV. The snickers in the assistance sounded a lot like “if you only knew….”. Then he said we should watch more TV and we might learn something and you could hear everyone taking a deep breath not to burst out laughing, which would have been quite rude indeed. Luckily, French hackers are well behaved, and don’t laugh at but with.

The main thing though was that content turned out to be quite closed to being manipulated for mashups or even multi-display. This was a bitter lulz that the main thing in TV, ie the content, was actually anything but impossible to play with, and that was true for both content and ads. This is a shame even for the TV channels actually, as if they were smart about this, they’d open a whole lot more, and try to fight for relevance as eyeballs are more and more directed to the web. As far as France TV is concerned, content opening seems to be underway, but a year is forever in web time, so they might need to pick up the pace and ambition of what they’re doing. They’ll also need to open their ads at some point if they want to remain pertinent in the long-term for advertisers in a world of highly targeted web ads.

All in all, this was a bit of a unusual hackathon, but it was fun, and I think everyone came out of it slightly less foolish than they had come in. So thanks again to all the organizers, partners, API providers, and jury for the opportunity to discover a bit more what connected TVs are about, and congrats to all the hackers who managed to produce interesting stuff despite the constraints of the medium!