Adi Isakovic called MTV last fall to propose a deal: he would stream live video, text messages and other content directly from his phone onto the company's gargantuan video screen in Times Square. The demonstration would give Mr. Isakovic the chance show off a technology he had been developing for years, while MTV would place itself at the forefront of a movement, attracting a wave of innovators eager to develop the next generation of public art and advertising.
He never heard back.
But last Monday Mr. Isakovic, a 27-year old from Toronto, watched a video online in which a man seemed to do exactly what he had suggested. The video was a viral hit; over 2.7 million people have watched it since it was posted. It also turned out to be a hoax intended to market a movie. Still, Mr. Isakovic, who runs a two-person technology start-up called TubeMote, decided that his moment had arrived.
Over the course of several frantic days he persuaded an agency that sells advertising space on an 5,000-square-foot screen on West 47th Street and Seventh Avenue to give him a few heavily discounted minutes to show what he could do. He and his wife and business partner, Tania Nardandrea-Isakovic, drove to New York over the weekend and put their system through its final tests and tweaks. At 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Mr. Isakovic will attempt to take over the screen in Times Square with his phone.
If the demonstration is successful, it will be a watershed moment for the TubeMote. The company wants to allow people to use their phones as universal remotes, controlling not only their televisions and home security systems, but also public screens in elevators, on stadium scoreboards and, of course, in Times Square. It is a vision whose potential applications remain cloudy, but Mr. Isakovic says he believes that interactive public screens will be increasingly integrated into campaigns by advertisers looking to engage potential consumers directly. It is negotiating deals with several clients, said Mr. Isakovic. Among those is Adapt Media, a Canadian advertising agency that is working with TubeMote on a campaign where people could use their phones to post messages about the tsunami in Japan on public screens while also donating to relief efforts.
Mr. Isakovic's partners seem to be motivated by equal parts curiosity and generosity, rather than a shared conviction that his goals are realizable.
"We wanted to help him out," said Tony Sinodinos, chief executive of Spectacular Design Group, which runs the screen. "Whether or not I believe it is another thing."
But it is clear that for Mr. Isakovic the stakes are higher than a fledgling business venture. He has been rolling this dream around in his head for much of his life, and said that the obsession had become the primary aspect of his life. When contacted by this reporter by e-mail, he agreed to an interview, but warned that he often worked himself into such a lather while programming that he lost the ability to communicate.
"Something happens to me when I focus deeply enough to create a complete hyper-dimensional model of a problem domain in my mind. It is almost as if different groups of neurons in my brain fire asynchronously, and if I try to speak I sound pretty crazy and confused," he wrote. "So I hope I am not in that state when you call." (Luckily, he was not.)
Mr. Isakovic's first venture into interactive technology came when he was 16. He started a company to develop interactive video screens that would be installed in the back of taxis. In the end it was a failure from both a marketing and technical perspective.
"When the car went over a bump, the system would crash," he said. "There was pretty much nothing useful about it."
Of course, the idea of screens in taxis hardly seems far-fetched in present-day New York, where they are now are required by law -- and are the only way that many passengers can calculate a 20 percent tip. Mr. Isakovic is confident that, 10 years from now, the idea of communicating with ubiquitous interactive screens will feel similarly obvious.
"I think it would be ideal," he said. "I think it would make cities beautiful."
He has talked a way into his chance to test out his dream. Now he just has to prove he can pull it off.
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