Prior to founding the screen-shopping app Spylight, the only experience Casper Daugaard had working in the TV industry was when he appeared in a LEGO commercial as a 10-year-old boy. But he loved watching its offerings, and not just in terms of the stories television tells.
“I would fall in love with what one of my characters was wearing,” Daugaard told Brief, “and I would want to buy it for myself. But I just couldn’t find out where I could buy some of this stuff or even get more information about it.”
In 2013, Daugaard was studying molecular biology and political science at Yale when Fox Television Group co-chair and (Yale alum) Gary Newman spoke at the school.
“He gave a speech about the future of TV and promotion and revenue streams,” Daugaard remembered. “I was very inspired and that’s when I came up with an idea for a platform that could solve this problem [of shopping for what you see on television] on a mass scale and also be a great promotional tool for studios and networks.”
What Daugaard envisioned is a mobile experience that lets you tap your device’s screen to sync it with live broadcasts of shows, then identifies the products in the scene so you can buy them online. It’s not a new idea in terms of product or concept (“it’s always been cool to be able to look like your favorite celebrity,” said Daugaard), but Spylight had some clout from the get-go that bodes well for the startup. The Newman/Yale connection proved to be huge in the early stages, as Daugaard was able to work a deal with Fox and get hit shows like New Girl and Glee on board before the app’s technology was even completed. Now located in Burbank, Spylight launched less than a month ago and already has more than a quarter million unique users shopping shows like Empire, Jane the Virgin, Homeland, and many others.
Spylight’s service is built on collaboration with studios’ producers and costume designers during pre-production, who provide it with the data it needs regarding what merchandise will appear in a given upcoming episode. Daugaard said the company has, on average, “about eight weeks to make all this data very neat and clean and prepare it for a public, consumer-facing experience” before the episode goes live. “A lot of trust is involved and we’ve had to build systems that protect the valuable IP that the studios let us play with so that it doesn’t get published, etc. until the air date.”
The company has made streamlining that information-gathering process a priority so as not to burden the studios, he continued. “It’s still a work-in-progress, but it’s much more seamless now than it was the first time we walked onto a set.”
The future of the app’s success in terms of its own revenue and the value it poses to networks, Daugaard explained, lies in being packaged with media buys. Network marketers “can package Spylight as a platform to help them enhance the advertising models they have with brands,” he said. “Spylight as a platform is attractive to be part of that package. Advertisers have a new and innovative platform to put their brand on, where people engage voluntarily with branded content. If you’re an advertiser buying media for a show – say you’re Macy’s – wouldn’t you want to be on this platform too?”
That dynamic, in turn, could eventually create partnerships between Spylight and the brands themselves. In addition to making the live-viewing experience shoppable, Spylight is building an index of all the past episodes’ merchandise, searchable by show, season, character and brand. That kind of targeted access and data could be extremely valuable to retailers down the road. For now, however, Daugaard said the emphasis is to “create value for the studios, because they’re the most important ally in this innovation… There is a rise of entrepreneurship here in LA. It’s pretty exciting what’s going on. It’s heartening to see that the most visionary studio execs are supporting startup innovation in Hollywood.”