Loop is reinventing the jukebox, one screen at a time
Photo: Loop

Loop is reinventing the jukebox, one screen at a time

Protocol Next Up

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: Loop is reinventing the jukebox, and Plex has started to link to everything. Plus: Paddington!

Reinventing the jukebox, one screen at a time

Cord cutting isn’t just for consumers anymore: Restaurants, bars and other venues are increasingly saying goodbye to paid TV as well. Online video isn’t just a cheaper option for those businesses, but also allows them to embrace new features, to the point where those omnipresent TV screens are starting to look like a 21st century version of the good old jukebox.

One of the companies driving that change is Loop, a Los Angeles-based video startup that got in the out-of-home market when it acquired Seattle-based ScreenPlay in late 2018. Since then, Loop has grown its footprint to over 10,000 TVs in a wide variety of businesses (think Texas Roadhouse or Hard Rock Cafe) and over 100,0000 gas station screens.

ScreenPlay had been a veteran of the B2B video space, with a 30-year history of providing restaurants and bars with custom programming.

  • With that history came a lot of legacy tech, and a business model that included salespeople touring restaurants to pitch them on the company’s service. Loop did away with all of that. “We took what was once a $300 a month service with a big Dell computer and a sixth-month sale cycle and we made it free,” Loop CPO Liam McCallum recently told me.
  • Loop replaced ScreenPlay’s legacy tech with an Android box that looks like any other streaming player. “Almost like a consumer cord-cutting experience,” McCallum said.
  • Loop customers get that box for free, and with it, access to hundreds of streaming channels. It also includes a web-based interface so businesses can add their own logos and cards to those channels.
  • Alternatively, businesses can also install a Loop app on Fire TVs, or other Android-based smart TVs or streaming players.

Loop’s streaming box has a few tricks up its sleeve. For instance, businesses can use it to sync video and audio across venues.

  • The box also supports caching of videos. “Once you stream, we encrypt it, cache it to the device,” McCallum said. “If and when that disaster happens and the business goes offline, the internet is cut, you don't want the music to stop.”
  • Loop’s box also monitors wireless signals from mobile phones nearby to estimate how many people are in the room, which helps the company monetize its ad breaks.

The biggest draw is the content. Loop is licensing channels with viral videos and sports (think surfing, snowboarding and anything that works without audio) from some of the same companies that stream this content directly to cord cutters.

  • The company has also acquired out-of-home licenses for music videos from the major record labels, allowing it to program countless music video stations.
  • Loop has begun to experiment with Watch Parties for these stations, which was first engineered for the company’s separate consumer music video apps.
  • Now, Loop is looking to bring Watch Parties to bars and restaurants, where it will allow guests to vote on the next song via text message, effectively turning those screens into interactive jukeboxes.
  • And the company isn’t stopping there: “Expect to see a lot more interactivity in 2022,” McCallum said. Loop is working on emoji reactions, trivia and more.

The rise of startups like Loop is more bad news for cable TV providers, which already are seeing consumers cut the cord by the millions. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for ad-supported video channels to reach new audiences, and Loop’s interactive features may even be a blueprint for some of those companies to bring more interactivity to their free, ad-supported streaming channels in the consumer space as well.


“As local storage gets bigger and cheaper, at what point does proactively syncing big personalized chunks of the catalog down to users’ phones become the more environmentally friendly (and performant) way to consume music?” — Musictech veteran Jay Herskowitz, responding to the news that the major labels have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“Putting my life savings into Linden.”Kreayshawn, whose transformation into an NFT and metaverse critic and indieweb advocate has been one of the more surprising developments of 2021.


Lexmark, a leading provider of printers and imaging equipment — one of the first IoT devices — understands the potential as well as the challenges better than most. We sat down with Lexmark CEO Allen Waugerman to discuss this major development, which he calls one of the most significant milestones in the company’s 30-year history.

Learn more

Plex takes another step toward aggregating all the things

Media app center maker Plex has quietly started aggregating search results from third-party streaming services, which could be a first step toward becoming an uber-aggregator that serves up any kind of media people may be looking for.

  • Plex integrated a new media search engine directly into its website last week, allowing people to search for movies, TV shows, actors and directors.
  • Results include not only titles streaming on Plex’s own free video service, but also from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Max and others. Results include links to third-party services, so people can easily start streaming those titles elsewhere.
  • The new search feature is powered by Justwatch, a streaming aggregator that has been offering the same kind of aggregation via its own sites and apps.
  • So far, third-party search is only available on the web, but a Reddit user recently found clues that suggest an app integration may be on the horizon as well.

Adding third-party search results is a logical next step for Plex: Company executives have for some time talked about plans to turn Plex into a one-stop shop for all digital media.

  • Plex already offers a lot: In addition to personal media its users may have collected, Plex also aggregates free movies and TV shows, linear streaming channels, podcasts, web shows, over-the-air broadcast TV, music from Tidal and more.
  • The company plans to add paid media, including transactional VOD and streaming subscriptions, in the near future.
  • However, even with all of that, a lot of content is still locked up in the walled gardens of other streaming services. Adding a meta search engine for movies and shows from those services could help Plex fill those gaps.

The big challenge here is not to piss anyone off, especially as Plex begins to integrate this type of search into its streaming apps. Netflix in particular has been notoriously protective of its own app experience, to the point where it is blocking Google TV users from adding Netflix titles to the platform’s watch list.

It will be interesting to see how Plex will navigate those challenges, and whether the result will be something the always-vocal Plex community is going to approve of. Perhaps it’s a good sign that some of those early adopters gave the new search feature a thumbs-up on Reddit: “That’s kinda what I want. Everything in one place,” wrote one of those users this week.

Fast forward

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On Protocol: YouTube TV may lose ABC, ESPN and other Disney channels as the two companies are fighting over carriage fees.

T-Mobile is still making TV hardware. The telco is selling a new streaming dongle based on the Google TV platform for $50.

Auf wiedersehen

My colleague Anna Kramer wrote a story this week celebrating all the nameless developers of hacks, bots and Chrome extensions who make our life a little easier every day. In that spirit, I propose we spend a bit of time this holiday season to send some virtual feelings of appreciation to all the thematic Twitter accounts that bring a bit of levity to our feed day after day.

I follow quite a few of them, including Bird per Hour, Random Restaurant and Pulp Librarian. My newest discovery is Jaythechou, who describes his work this way: “I Photoshop Paddington into another movie or TV show until I forget.” Jay has been doing this for close to a year now, and produced so many great Paddington cameos that I couldn’t even decide which ones to highlight in this column. In a way, the sheer volume of his work may be the real lesson here: If you find something you love as much as Jay loves Paddington, stick with it! At least until you forget.

Thanks for reading — see you next week!

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