Business Technology

The Digital Champion powering Netflix-like content for Spotify and Virgin

8 min read

09 December 2015

Former deputy editor

Easel TV was crowned the Digital Champion at the Growing Business Awards and CEO Joe Foster has spoken with Real Business about the victory as well as the company's work on projects for the likes of Spotify and Virgin Media.

A cloud-based video service provider, Easel TV is at the forefront of the shift away from tangible media like DVDs and CDs. It delivers digital media – video, music, advertising – across connected devices including PCs, smartphones, tablets, TV and games consoles.

In his own words, Foster said: “We enable our clients to offer online entertainment services like Netflix, online TV services like iPlayer, branded content TV channels, advertising video channels and much more.”

Said clients include an impressive list of large firms such as HTC and Spotify. Easel TV was responsible for taking Spotify to Virgin Media’s pay TV service, while it also built the software to power the latter’s TV apps, such as Curzon Cinema’s Home service.

“We are the technology behind the world’s first cloud-based hotel video service in airtime from Airwave,” detailed Foster.

“Our vision is to be the best global SaaS video service provider. We want to shape the future of convenience viewing and the future of television – video as a means of engaging people, be it entertaining, communicating, educating, advertising or anything else.

“We aim to be ‘the’ or ‘one of the’ most recognised and respected cloud B2B video service providers in the market.”

He explained that the ambition has been there since launching six years ago, although the changing devices and software in industries has sculpted the company to ensure it’s adaptive.

Indeed, with regular updates to iOS, Android, the devices they run on and so on to manage, the Easel TV team is kept busy as it looks to stay at the front of new developments.

Foster revealed that while the company started off by delivering non-traditional broadcast/cloud VoD on the big screen, they realised that it was also important to deliver the same non-traditional broadcast/cloud VoD to mobile, table and desktop devices.

“It was easier to add mobiles and tablets and thus provide extensive multi-screen coverage with real differentiation in big screen user experience (UX),” he said.

“We track the advent of open interfaces by consumer electronic manufacturers like Smart TV providers, software giants such as Google, Apple & Amazon TV boxes, and TV operators like Virgin Media or Freeview.

“We also track the consumer adoption of these devices, and this allows us to advise our clients of the costs and coverage in releasing multi-screen video services to the market.”

As for which of the company’s many solutions stand out, video entertainment is experiencing the most interest. It comes as digital video stores for rental or buy to own are eating into the sale of DVDs, thus Easel TV is developing tools to support the trend.

Today, the company is on track for £2m annual revenue and it is completely self-funded – something Foster is particularly proud of. He added: “One of the main milestones was getting a contract with TiVo in the US. That kick started things. We help TiVo develop, test and integrate their solution into Virgin Media.”

He believes that the firm was able to stand out as this year’s Digital Champion based on its ability to support British businesses and global firms alike, while cloud on the whole is transformative. Put that together with advertising, TV, tools and payment systems, and it works for a rich mix of functions.

Read more winners’ stories from the Growing Business Awards:

“Building the video players on all the devices and TV operator services would take many years and millions of pounds; we can provide all this as a SaaS service today, so it is very powerful, a growing British business in the right place at the right time,” Foster opined.

He explained that in some ways, getting to where it was today was both difficult and easy. In the early days, many companies thought they could develop all of the software without a third party, but many also failed.

“To begin with there were a lot of people adamant that they were going to build all this themselves, in many cases there still are. But this is changing as a few have tried and, if they’ve not exactly failed, they have at least realised it is not just in the years and millions of upfront investment,” he said.

“It’s also the architecting of a holistic cloud solution from the beginning, and not just building and bolting on one device app at a time, but also there is an ongoing operational and development cost with multiple new devices and new TVs changing all the time, all of which need to be supported together with the legacy devices.”

Foster said that the opportunity to get in the room and pitch presents a better, more cost-effective, risk-free way for partners to manage costs with a cross-platform service that has the tools in one place.

Aside from that, while it’s an accomplishment, building without funding has been the biggest challenge for Foster, though that could change now.

“With our technology now relatively mature and products and services now close to ready for mass market, we are looking for funding to grow quicker, market better and generally deliver on our potential. This will be the next major milestone and challenge for 2016,” he said.

With the new year in mind, Foster said the goal is for the business to get “better, faster and smarter”.

“That might sound like clever mouth piece but it has foundation – we are working hard to complete the tools that support our service,” Foster said.

“In the first and second quarters of 2016, these should mature to the point of being able to produce services for clients much faster, making it even better for clients to control and run their service, allowing us to take on more clients and freeing up our developers to create even smarter services.”