Can Shazam’s aggressive visual recognition launch dominate media engagement sector?

Shazam secured a $30m investment at the start of 2015 – an injection that resulted in the company being entered into the billion dollar valuation club.

At the time, CEO Rich Riley said: “We’re excited to continue to focus on user growth and engagement, building on our strength in music and innovating to increase the universe of what is Shazamable in order to realise the enormous potential of Shazam.”

Of course, the “Shazamable universe” was once a strictly music-centric place that provided music fans with the means to detect the details of the song they’re listening to.

Since moving beyond a dialling service and onto apps, the developments for iOS, Android and Windows Phone have become steadily richer. Interfaces have been revamped with new features to support automatic tags, access to streaming channels like Spotify and Rdio, as well as the means to book tickets to see artists in concerts – all of which are providing Shazam the means to generate additional revenue.

A key turning point for the company was adapting its model to support TV, which came at a time that the second-screen trend of using smartphones and tablets while watching the television had begun to boom.

It resulted in Shazam teaming with brands including 20th Century Fox, Honda, Starbucks, Paramount and Procter and Gamble – just a handful of the A-list firms to advertise with the media discovery company. It works by prompting TV viewers with a Shazam icon during an ad break to indicate they should launch the app, and from there they’re able to access additional content like videos, wallpapers and purchasing options.

The firm even pushed into cinemas – though some may argue it would disrupt the cinematic magic – to encourage patrons to use their mobiles during certain trailers.

Shazam has continued to innovate, even using the app to help plan tours for musicians, and in January 2015 it embraced the increasingly topical beacon technology, which enables brands to connect to users based on their location via Bluetooth. Its offering was launched with mobile engagement firm Gimbal and marked “the largest deployment” of proximity technology in a mobile application to date.

“By incorporating Gimbal into their platform, Shazam and their partner brands will be able to deliver even better experiences to their millions of users, based on each user’s individual interests and proximity,” said Rocco Fabiano, CEO, Gimbal.

Indeed, the rising popularity of beacons was revealed on 18 May when Gatwick was named among seven UK airports fitted with the tech, effectively opening up the chance for stores and restaurants to reach 100m passengers during dwell time at the locations.

Reflecting back on Riley’s comments of the “Shazamable universe”, the firm’s newest focus is on visual recognition – a channel that works in a number of forms such as augmented reality.

Shazam plans to use the functionality to create “dynamic pieces of content” from static images such as posters, packaged items and print media. In a similar fashion to Shazam for TV, users that scan the Shazam logo or a QR code can access special offers, purchase options and so on.

As such, it’s already secured an impressive batch of clients for the launch, including Disney, Warner Bros, Evian, boohoo.com, HarperCollins, Target and Esquire. For example, Disney is using the campaign to promote its latest film Tomorrowland starring George Clooney.

What’s particularly interesting it how much the launch sounds like the services of augmented reality business Blippar, which pitches itself as “your augmented reality app that unlocks exclusive content from everyday things”.

In fact, Shazam and Blippar already have client crossover as they both serve Disney, Warner Bros, Jaguar and Proctor and Gamble to name a few.

Of course, Shazam is still touting its musical roots, which will remain firmly intact. “This [visual recognition] capability will live side-by-side with the existing Shazam audio functionality people rely on to discover new artists, catch up on favourite acts, listen to music, and use while watching TV,” the company assured.

With music, TV, streaming, ticketing, beacons and visual recognition, it seems clear the firm is determined to become the one-stop shop for all things concerning mobile media engagement.

“The introduction of visual recognition is another step on our journey to extend the ways people can use Shazam to engage with the world around them,” said Riley. “For brands, we’re providing a near-frictionless way to engage customers on their mobile devices, with a single tap of a button.”

It makes sense that the company would want to tread on the toes of Blippar and other AR services. Augmented reality is set generate revenue of $120bn by 2020, dominated by sectors including TV and film – read again, Disney’s Tomorrowland plug – enterprise, which is set to be worth $2.4bn by 2019, and advertising.

At 100m users, Shazam has double the user base of Blippar. However, the latter arguably has much more experience in the field, which is what earned it a $45m investment in March 2015. It was revealed the round would be used to bolster the company’s engineering team and “fuel our mission to build the first visual search engine for the entire physical world”.

“This is a pivotal time for the image-recognition industry. While the digital advertising and marketing communities have been quick to capitalise on the potential of our technology to engage audiences with branded experiences, we have barely scratched the surface in terms of the potential impact that our technology can bring to other industries, particularly education, healthcare and charities,” said Ambarish Mitra, Blippar founder and CEO.

“This funding brings us closer to our ultimate goal of creating a new kind of cognitive behaviour, one that enables us to instantaneously access information and content directly from any of the physical objects or collateral in the world around us.”

Perhaps the sector is big enough for the two to play nicely together and, if not, 2015 is being tipped as the year of mergers and acquisitions.

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