13th November 2017 by Maria Arroja Ferreira

Talking Innovation with Bruno Pereira from TV App Agency

Talking to one of the most influential people within the video industry in the UK, gaining an amazing insight into how they’ve grown a unique idea into an award-winning enterprise.

Six years after its launch, TV App Agency has been growing year on year to become a key player in the art of the OTT (over the top) which allows a range of content owners, distributors, Telcos, operators to distribute video content online. From television to mobile phones, you have probably already used their applications on your devices. Their influence has been so subtle primarily due to their niche – they create applications used by major companies to display their content, running in the background, though they are a key piece of the puzzle.

In this interview, we discussed not only the growth of Bruno Pereira’s business but also how he sees the company’s future in the long-run through the partnership between both the UK and Portugal.

 

How does the TV App Agency work?

We specialize in services for video content providers, so what we do is we offer full ended solutions for companies who have videos they want to distribute to masses. They can be anyone – from here in the UK we have Box Plus, the Channel 4 music channel, to Telco’s/Operators across the world that wants to do a four-way service for customers. Meaning that we can support any given service.

How did you come to founding the TV App Agency, and who are the founding members?

I’m one of the founders, and, basically, it all started with the crazy idea that I wanted to standardize the space for smart tv apps. There’s a huge list of TV manufacturers, each one of them uses only one operating system, so I developed a technology that enables us to develop apps once, and then deploy across multiple manufacturers, instead of doing one at a time.

The issue was that when we started the business there wasn’t an OTT space. So, what was originally the idea for the business had to be shifted, and we created the TV App Agency – an agency that builds apps for customers. Our first customer wasn’t even a video customer – it was Rightmove – and now we have more than 100 customers in 50 different countries.

How did it evolve from working with companies such as Rightmove to becoming the video-based program it is today?

Well, our focus was always around TV apps, and no matter what we called them, TV is still used primarily to watch videos. So, whilst we had a lot of success with companies such as Rightmove, National Rail, and weather apps, the video was key. We then started developing our first apps with video, it went well, and here we are today.

Do you feel that you’re one of the creators of the video app idea as a whole?

Well, the TV app idea already existed, it was just a very fragmented space. It took multiple technologies to make it work which meant that from a cost perspective it was quite difficult to build applications for every single platform. This also meant that content owners would be supplying to the biggest platforms, but they would be losing both money and traffic.

What do you think differentiates you, the TV App Agency, from your competition?

It’s mainly about technology. We try to take into account product solutions instead of just custom development which means that the technology can be more cost effective for our customers, but we can also give them a lot more reach than any of our other competitors. That means that what normally one of our competitors needs ten developers to do, I can do with one or two [developers].

So, you have essentially cut the process down and made it more effective.

Yes, correct.

How do you feel the market has changed since the ideas’ inception, to the how the markets are at the moment?

Well, having lived the first mobile wave, this has a much faster current. It’s a much faster-growing market, has a much bigger financial opportunity behind it, and, in reality, the full spectrum of TV is changing on a day-to-day, basis.

Before, in our grandparents’ time, or even parents’ time, all they could do is switch on and see whatever channels were available – I’m still from the days in Portugal when we only had two channels; RTP1 and RTP 2. Then I was so happy when SIC came along, and later we then went through the phase of having cable TV operators where we’d pay up to 100 euros per month to watch content. Yet now, I can pay £10 per month and I can watch a lot of content; I can watch what I want.

So, this is where this whole market is changing. People don’t sit in front of the TV at 8 o’clock to watch the news anymore, people now sit on their sofas whenever they can, or with their devices whilst commuting, or doing whatever they’re doing, to watch content, and it’s this liberalisation of content is having an impact in this space.

Do you see new technologies, such as smart televisions connected to WIFI, as a possible way of expanding as a company?

So, I think there are two things in what you said. It’s not just about the WIFI, it’s also about the quality of the broadband that’s getting to the households that enables us to give a much better experience. Around ten years ago videos were still pixelated yet now we can get 4K, which is essentially cinema quality in your house, via a stream. That’s one of the differentiators that make things work better.

The second thing is what’s really going to make a difference to my company is not really the amount of connectivity, as that’s already available, it’s really around advertisement and advertisement revenues. Also, once advertisements move from traditional TV, and traditional media, you’ll be able to see a dramatic change in terms of growth of this space, and in terms of speed, to the next level.

What do you feel your customers want today?

What customers want today is people to market and reach; which is how quickly can I get to market, how fast can I get it, and how many people can I reach, and I think those are the key factors that we’re bringing to the table. Because first movers have a big advantage. Through the years everyone said that content was king for web and mobile, but it really never took off, right? And now, all of a sudden, you can have to crappiest of apps, but if you’re there first and you have that special content that everyone wants, you’re going to get masses. And you’re starting to see that, where certain services like Netflix have been very successful, and now the content owners are saying great, we’re not going to renew the contract with you, and we get the first window of availability. So, we get the first opportunity to engage with the customers, and once we do that, only then will we give you the content.

This is a big shift because, if we see traditionally, when we look at traditional business models, these companies work in a completely different way. So, even the content owners and the broadcasters being able to think beyond the traditional models is a very big shift. You also have to remember that this space is not a million-dollar space, it’s a multi-billion-dollar space.

Now you see TV Shows such as Game of Thrones, where people will stay awake until midnight to watch the new release at the same time as the US, then they’ll binge for hours. Before it wasn’t like that, you would have to wait until the day it was going to be broadcast on your television and that was it.

There have been a lot of changes in a very small space of time.

The internet is much faster, and things are developing even faster than that. Companies that didn’t make content are creating it now, like Amazon, they used to just sell things, be a retailer. It’s almost like going to Tesco tomorrow and you find that they’ve just produced a new film with Sylvester Stallone (wouldn’t that be amazing). That’s the way this market is going.

There are currently businesses in the UK that produce more video content on demand than some studios. One of the best examples of this is ASOS, as they’ve been doing it for years. On the ASOS website, everything is made up of a video. So, all of a sudden you begin to realize that companies that you had never considered before are already doing stuff.

This is how the OTT market is changing. A lot of these guys feel that they need to add additional services for customers. Tesco actually bought a company that distributed videos, but it was so abnormal to them at the time that they actually sold it right away because they didn’t know what to do with it. Which they ended up selling to TalkTalk.

Sainsbury’s has also been playing around with launching its own Netflix style service too. You may not know, but McDonald’s owns a service similar to Netflix in the US which is quite an old school – you still rent DVDs. In every McDonald’s store, there’s a kiosk where you can rent a DVD to have at your McDonalds.

Could you name a few customers of your customers?

We have various customers, such as Box Plus, Blockbusters, Zee TV, Du Telecom, RTE Ireland, Parts of EE TV, Capital FM, Heart FM, Right Move, Coca-cola, Global Radio, BeIn Sports in Spain, Deezer. To name a few.

I remember being in Canada once, the app they were using to demo their smart TVs was our app, I went to every single retailer sales person and told them that I’d built it. Then I went to Dubai, to their biggest Sony store where they have massive televisions, and they were using one of our apps to demo their TV also. My guys do that often – go into different shops to check out if the TVs are using our apps and take pictures with it.

It’s amazing that you’re the connecting factor between all these companies who, at times are even competitors.

Yes. The thing to remember is also that we now build apps for everything, so, web, mobile, tablets, smart-tv, apple tv, etc. We were the first company approved to have an app to launch PlayStation 4. We’ve worked with Xbox, we work with all the smart tv manufacturers. When you think about how we’ve been able to build a business like this in six and a half years without investors, without debt, without bank loans, that is a difference.

How has the company’s revenue been growing since it started?

We’ve been having a very steady growth, almost doubling revenue year on year. We currently have offices in Portugal & UK – the majority of our team is in Portugal today. Our headquarters are still in London, we’re located in Piccadilly Circus, but the majority of our work is now based in Portugal, and the territories that we’re currently looking into opening more places in are also there. Growth is in big demand at the moment, and it’s something that we’re really trying to leverage.

Why did you feel that was an important step – keeping the HQ in the UK whilst running the development of apps in Portugal?

There are a few factors. We tried to outsource first, but it never really worked. The outsourcing model that exists today is not flexible enough to work in the environment we work in. As this is a fast-moving market, something that may be working well today may not work in two weeks. So, we need that flexibility and need to have that control of the people around it.

Secondly, our Portuguese side of the business actually started by me being interviewed by Diário Digital, a financial newspaper in Portugal, followed by the University of Madeira paying a visit to our HQ and asked us if we needed people, having said yes, then hired two students to come join us. Then, based on those students, we ended up hiring twelve of their friends, and now we’re close to 50 people.

Is that also, in part, to do with returning to your roots, as well as being open to new talent?

It’s not just about going back to my country. The main thing for me was that technically, Portugal is very good, Portugal as a country and Poland are used as test-beds for technology by companies such as Vodafone, and for online banking. This is because the Portuguese as a population have always been very tech-savvy and interested, which means that if you look at the average number of phones per person in Portugal, it’s two, and they always have the latest of everything, making it a really good test-bed.

The second thing is that the education in Portugal is very good, even more so when it comes to technology, meaning that people are very qualified. Portugal has one thing that is a little peculiar, because our television isn’t translated, or dubbed, our knowledge of English is very high, which is crucial when dealing with international customers.

And, finally, it’s in the same time zone as the UK. So, all those pieces together, make Portugal very attractive for companies like TVA, to have development centres there, and I’m not the only one. Sky has a massive development centre in Portugal, IBM, and many others, all have development centres in Portugal. Vodafone moved their development to Portugal too. Portuguese skillset is extremely high, everyone speaks English, and you’re in the same time zone as the UK.

Have you won any awards for your work?

Yes, we won an innovation award for the technology I developed called the TV App Engine. We were second place by DTG, with the Institute of technology, for the television innovation awards. We are a premium partner with Xbox, we won the Cable Fox Tech award in 2015.

Also, for the last few years, I’ve been on the list of the top 40 most influential people in the video industry in the UK.

Why did you decide to start the business in the UK?

It was an evolution. Firstly, I’ve lived in the UK and decided to start a business whilst in the UK. But also, our view was never to have a single development centre; at the moment we have three centres in Portugal, but it doesn’t mean that tomorrow we may not go and open one in Barcelona, for example.

It has to do with how fast with can get hold of resources, and Portugal has been delivering, so we’re staying there.

What attracted you to London in the first place?

Within the last 17 years, I’ve lived in seven countries. I was brought to the UK by an American company to run their partnerships division. Then that company was bought by a company in the UK, and I got tired of the Enterprise world, so I left and helped the start-up of two mobile agencies here in the UK, then decided to start my own thing.

So, would you say you’re an ideas guy?

Well, yes. For example, if you go and buy Ikea furniture today, part of the architectural software used to make it was designed by me.

My specialty initially was content management systems and e-commerce – I was able to work for Ikea, IBM, Accenture, BT, Air Canada, then, before joining the American company I told about.

How do you feel that Brexit has impacted you as a business?

For me, it has been amazing because only 9% of my business is in the UK, so it means that I only get paid in Euros and Dollars, so the day after Brexit I had 15% more money in the bank. So, from that perspective, it doesn’t really impact me much.

As a company, we’ve also always been prepared to look at alternative locations, and this is just an example that works really well. So, if things move forward and we need to rethink our strategy we can leverage our Portuguese entity.

What do you feel is the biggest difference between entrepreneurs in the UK and those in Portugal?

I think things are changing. Until very recently, Portugal had this Portuguese language barrier, so businesses would only leave Portugal to go to countries that also spoke Portuguese. Though, in the last two to three years, things have changed dramatically. Google is investing a lot in Portugal as a start-up hub. If I’m not wrong, Portugal has the first 500-million-dollar company. So, it is growing and changing, which is amazing – I think it’s really good for the country that more situations like that keep happening.

Are you tempted to branch out to other areas within the EU?

I don’t know. At the moment we’re happy in Portugal. We’ve been able to grow at the speed we need to grow in Portugal, so it’s difficult to decide to go somewhere else. I think that for us it’s mainly about what we’re going to do next, and that’s what we’re currently trying to understand; where the market is going and what are we going to do.

As a business, we can’t just sit down and relax based on past wins. The focus for us has always been around our development; what sort of innovation can we bring to the table, what new things we can bring in. That is always what’s differentiated in our market forecast – we’re always thinking ahead.

How do you think you’re going to grow within the next 5 years?

If I knew where I was going to be in five years, I’d be probably buying a lot of stocks on it. The market changes so fast that smaller companies like us have a better chance than larger ones. Having said that, what are we going to do, what’s going to happen. I can’t tell you what’ll be in this space in a year, let alone two or five.

To end on a more light-hearted topic, what is it that makes you get out of bed in the morning?

If you wake up in the morning and you don’t feel like going to work, go back to your bed and resign. To me, this is what makes me get up every morning; coming in and joining my team. I have a really good team around me who are forward thinkers, and that is the key to TVA success – our team.

The second thing is that this market changes so fast that you’re challenged every day, there’s always something new, you learn something that you didn’t know. And, the other thing to think about, Maria, is that, up to seven years ago, I didn’t know anything about the video space. I could tell you everything about e-commerce, which is what I was good at, but I didn’t know a single thing about the video space.

Today, I know quite a lot, but I still don’t know everything, and that’s what’s important to me – no one ever stops learning. That’s what’s most interesting about this space, things move so fast that you never stop learning, and that’s what makes me keep on going.