Ex-Google employee starts Sensara to make TV watching experience better


Tired of flipping through channels to avoid ads while watching TV? Sensara aims to make this simple and easy for you with AdBreaks.

Today, there's an app for practically everything -- from music, food, and services to dating. However, if there is one space that has been neglected by other players, according to the Sensara team, it is television. "Apps created by TV providers don't make for a great user experience. Other apps available in the Play store also lack many things," says Bharath Mohan, CEO, Sensara.

Bharath says Sensara aims to change the TV watching experience. Combining design and computer science is its modus operandi. The idea, he says, is to figure out how mobile influences TV, and vice-versa. The team began with surveying people on the biggest pain point about watching TV. "Almost everyone said they would like a way to return to a particular channel just after an ad break," adds Bharath.

Creating Adbreaks

Initially, the team decided against working on this as they felt it would be complex. However, in the course of their research a few patterns appeared. The team at Sensara discovered that ads have a lot of audio, are short, and repeat often across TV channels. After applying sequence mining algorithms, the team discovered they could provide the audience with what they needed.

"This took five months of effort. After this, we decided to take the idea to execution, which itself was an arduous task since it needed to be done in real time. The first time we deployed this system was a Eureka moment, and we were ecstatic. It really worked!" says Bharath.

How does AdBreaks work?

Present on a web platform and as an Android app, one just needs to keep the app or the site open while watching TV to know which channels are on an ad break. It shows which channels have commercial breaks going on, and the time duration since the last ad, in real time. The site also gives you the total number of channels that are on breaks.

The android app has more interesting features, such as listing the shows currently on TV, and also what other users are watching. Supporting all cable operators, AdBreaks currently works over 50 different channels; HBO, Star Movies and Sony Pix, among others.

Building the team

A team of 10, everyone in Sensara, according to Bharath, brings in expertise in information retrieval, product design, and software systems. He adds that their team consists of people who have worked on exciting augmented reality projects, and had built technology that could do what Shazam does.

"Suresh Narasimha (CEO, Telibrahma) and I discussed how these technologies could be adapted for the TV sector. We went on a trip to the US as part of InnoTrek last year, and became close. Some of my ex-colleagues from Insieve joined later. We applied technology like acoustic fingerprinting to TV understanding," says Bharath. Prior to founding Insieve, Bharath had completed his PhD in Computer Science from IISc and had worked for Google.

The hiccups and creating a USP

Bharath believes TV crawling to be a hard technical problem. He says that it got the team to need to learn across different disciplines, and go back to text books. "This is a big challenge - and we are still solving it," adds Bharath. He says that the work being done at Sensara needs the best skills in computer science and hardware.

Sensara claims that AdBreaks is the only site in India that tracks ad breaks across channels. "We are now building an app that is all about building a TV-watching experience around the events that happen on TV. There are 200 million TV watchers in India, and almost everyone is going to have a smart phone," says Bharath.

Building Sensy

According to Bharath, AdBreaks has had over 2000 visitors in two weeks. He says that people love it, and are discussing the possibilities this can have in relation to the TV watching experience. Sensara works in India, and covers most of the metro cities.

Currently, the team has built another android app, Sensy, a unique TV search and remote app. According to Bharath, this app already has close to 10000 downloads and a 4.6 rating. "With Sensy, we are looking at achieving the most a mobile can do for the TV watching experience. Every day, we run through hundreds of iterations, learning from users’ experiences. Also, we've learnt that people next expect their mobiles to change television channels for them. We are doing something interesting there," says Bharat.

Smart mobile TV relationships

Globally, the market for a smart relationship between mobile and TV has advanced significantly. The market for smart TVs is huge, and according to sources, over 50 percent of the TVs sold worldwide will be smart. Some of the apps already dominant in the global space are Amazon Instant, which lets you watch your favourite shows, and catch up with the ones you missed. There’s already Spotify, which makes streaming music on your TV easier, and many others.