On behalf of Northern StartUp 2.0‘s StartUpOftheWeek programme, I caught up with Ben Hookway, CEO of Vidiactive to find out about his latest tech startup.
Manoj: What made you launch your company? Briefly, tell us about the company history and the management team.
Ben: EV Group (previously Enterprise Ventures) were already looking at the Vidiactive project before I came on board. EV had invested in Next Device, a company I had co-founded and sold to Mentor Graphics. I had kept in touch with EV and talked about a few ideas when Vidiactive came up. Having been primarily involved in the mobile industry, I saw the emerging trends in web TV as being an area of high potential – not unlike the mobile industry a few years ago. I felt that there was the opportunity to bring some innovative thinking into the space, while also being aware of the complexities of the value chain. Ken Tindell, the CTO, was already there as was Iolo Jones, the chairman. Ken and Iolo are both really strong talents in their space. Ken has founded and exited companies and brings great perspectives on opportunities. He never does things just because that’s the way the industry has always done it – he continually challenges assumptions and brings the best, freshest thinking to a problem. Iolo has been involved with the TV industry all his career and brings a wealth of contacts and a fast track to navigating the main players we encounter. He’s been instrumental in making sure we don’t solve the wrong problem really well! Having had a good experience with EV as an investor, and seeing the strength of the team and the potential of the space I made the decision to go all in with Vidiactive.
Manoj: What problem(s) do Vidiactive solve? Why do you think Vidiactive solve the problem better than others?
Ben: We solve 2 problems:
1. Wouldn’t it be great if you could browse for and find web video on your browser, but then watch it full screen on your TV in a full TV experience? We allow you to watch almost any web video on your TV in a full screen viewing experience. Examples here are the obvious catch up services like iPlayer, 4OD, ITV viewer and so on. We also enable the large video sites like YouTube, but crucially we also easily enable more niche sites. So if you are into cycling tv, sailing tv, angling tv, or whatever, you can now watch it in a full screen experience on your TV rather than being hunched over the lap top. As an example, our development team watched the recent England game online – only they watched it in great quality on a 42″ plasma screen TV drinking beer and eating pizza, not huddled around a laptop.
2. Wouldn’t it be great if you could manage all your the web video on your own portal on your laptop or PC browser and have your preferences reflected on the TV screen automatically? There is a lot of video content available, and its growing fast. We allow people to watch all of this on TV, but we know that managing all of this with a TV remote is impossible. We link personal video management portals with TVs. This allows you to search, forward, mark, create playlists, receive recommendations, and so on using your browser. This is how people already behave – we don’t try and change that by getting them to do complex things with a TV. You manage from your browser and your choices appear on TV UI when you switch it on. For example, at work in your lunchtime you might come across 4 pieces of web video that you want to watch. You can mark them with the Vidiactive solution and when you get home and switch on your TV you have a notification that there are 4 new pieces of video for you to watch. You then use a simple remote to select the video and watch in full screen.
Manoj: Who are your key competitors? How do you differentiate from them?
Ben: We don’t believe there is anyone else implementing a solution like ours. There is however a lot of activity in the web video space. Most suffer from limitations. Many of them focus on a restricted set of video content creating a poor selection for users. The reasons for this vary, but we have unique web video playing technology which allows us to show just about anything in a proper TV format. So for example with competitive approaches, you might be able to see iPlayer, but not 4OD or YouTube or Hulu. With Vidiactive, you can see it all. A lot of other solutions are focussed on cramming more and more interactivity and options onto the TV screen. My view is that this is the path of least resistance when you get 2 industries getting together. Internet + TV = desktop type experience on a TV screen. But this type of approach ignores 2 things;
a) The TV is a lean back experience. in the US, 50% of people who record programming on their DVR don’t skip the ads. TV is not inherently interactive.
b) TV screens are shared screens. When you share a screen you can’t a personal interaction experience
Its by understanding the above 2 points that we have come to what we believe is the most elegant solution.
Manoj: What stage are you in, in terms of execution of your plans? What are your plans for the next 12 to 18 months? What are the key challenges you are facing right now? What help do you need if any?
Ben: We’ve been going since the beginning of the year and are about to release the beta solution. We are in discussion with some major telecom and TV service suppliers about the solution, in addition to some very well known hardware companies. We are also planning on co-exhibiting at CES in Las Vegas in January with a major technology company (to be announced!). Plans for the next 12 to 18 months are trial and then production roll-outs of the service. We are also looking at a further round of funding to accelerate the penetration into the market.