From his perch in Calgary, Cory Cleveland made an interesting observation about the way Indians watch cricket: Even in a country that's adopting smartphones at a remarkable pace, the capacity to live-stream video on mobile devices hasn't yet caught up. Instead, Indians have taken to gluing themselves to their phones as waterfalls of live text-based commentary tick down the page.
"People will have a smartphone before they'll have a TV or any other connected device," he notes. And so his startup – Play-it Interactive, a spinoff of the Calgary's Business Instincts Group – went looking for ways to capture this market. Sports seemed to be the way to do it.
The company launched an alpha version of their app geared to football during the FIFA World Cup, targeted at feature-phones – cheaper smartphone-like devices that run non-iOS or Android operation systems. It quickly racked up just shy of half a million downloads.
Now, it's signed a deal with Reliance Games, one of India's leading entertainment conglomerates, to launch an app about that country's unofficial national sport: cricket.
Play-it's app itself is simple enough. It takes information feeds about cricket – including scores, stats, and the line-by-line commentary (fed in from a company that specializes in providing them), and wraps it up with competitive social engagement.
A basic fantasy cricket league lets users pick a roster of players and track their worth based on their real-world performance, as fantasy leagues will. Meanwhile, as live games unfold, on-screen sliders let users make predictions about the "over," (a unit of play that, like most things about cricket, is completely baffling to outsiders). Users can then compare their predictions against their friends', which can then be scored on social networks.
The company is releasing the app for feature phones as well as smartphones, with special attention to the booming market in low-end Android phones that can be had for as little as $20 in the Indian market. Instead of designing a fully-native app for all three platforms, the company is taking the approach of wrapping an HTML5 web app in native containers.
But Mr. Cleveland says a bigger part of the app's draw to both users and advertisers will be its ability to predict the key moments in the game, and the items of most interest to the user. For instance, if the app notices that the user is paying attention to the performance of a certain player, it can alert them when that player scores.
"For people using the app for the first time, they might be getting notifications that are unexpected," he says. "How did they know this was my favourite player?"
The company plans to use the same trick as a draw to marketers, who he hopes will use to advertise to sports fans right when they're most engaged by inserting sponsorship messages at the emotional high-points of the game.
"What's going to be very cool is the ability to deliver a brand message at moments of peak interest by the user," he says. "It's being able to deliver the brand message right at the point when the person is most engaged – the height of action, when that emotive moment has happened in the data feed."