Shazam, one of the original British tech start-ups, is famous for music: point your phone at a radio and it’ll tell you what song is playing. Now it’s moving into image scanning too, but as a portal for advert interaction rather than a recognition tool.
Its new feature lets you point your mobile camera at an image tagged with a Shazam logo and be connected to the virtual world of Disney film Tomorrowland, for example, or Instagrams of fashion bloggers in Levi’s jeans.
That puts the company in direct competition with two fellow British tech companies: Blippar, which creates augmented reality adverts, and Dan Wagner’s Powa Technologies, which lets users interact with ads and pay via scanning ‘PowaTags’ and allows retailers to connect with in-store customers via their phones.
Shazam, which is based in both London and New York, raised $30m (£19.6m) in January at a valuation of $1bn, despite having never turned a profit since being founded at the turn of the millennium. Powa, founded in 2007, was valued at $2.7bn last June, while three-year-old Blippar raised $45m at an undisclosed valuation in March.
Shazam has more than 100m active monthly users and makes a decreasing amount of money via letting people buy the song they want identifying from iTunes. More of its revenue comes from US TV adverts – a massive 85% can be ‘Shazamed’ to access exclusive content. This latest feature is just an extension of that latter revenue stream.
It’s not doing what it did for music, though, letting you scan, say, a painting or plant to find out what it is. It definitely needs the money – despite its sky-high valuation, Shazam made just £16.9m in 2013 (the most recent accounts filed). The billion dollar question, though, is whether consumers will buy into all this ad-scanning lark, without the habit of ‘Shazaming’ an image already ingrained.