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Vermantia: Higher quality streams and data will increase player engagement
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NEWS 21 January 2019

Vermantia: Higher quality streams and data will increase player engagement

By Tim Poole
Filippos Antonopoulos is CEO and founder of bespoke data and picture content provider Vermantia. He started the company in 2007 after honing his knowledge of betting and gaming working in Latin America’s lottery industry. He began his career as a Wall Street analyst and was included in Fortune Magazine’s 2013 40-under-40 list.

What are the benefits of being based in Greece, considering so many gambling companies have HQs in Malta, Gibraltar or Isle of Man?

Residence in a particular jurisdiction like Malta or the Isle of Man is more of a regulatory thing that applies far more to B2C operators, in truth. Vermantia, as a Greek multi-national company and leading B2B supplier, was founded in Greece and has no need to be anywhere other than here. Some of our biggest customers, like OPAP and Intralot, are based in Athens, so it makes sense for us to be close to them. Greece is an excellent tech hub that has more than its fair share of high-calibre computer scientists, programmers, engineers, and technicians – so it is very good for recruitment too. It also happens to be a great place to live! We have a vast international focus as a company; but we are very happy to be based here.

How big is virtual sports within the gaming industry and how much scope is there for the vertical to grow?

The figure that is always quoted for virtuals is they are 10 per cent of most revenues in retail sports betting. Yet with so many more players discovering them across an increasing number of jurisdictions, I think that figure will grow. It is a mixed picture, however, and the key is understanding the nuances of each market. Some mature markets, like the UK for instance, may well be reaching saturation. Others, like Italy, are mature yet continue to grow at a fast pace. You then have the likes of Africa and Latin America which have huge potential, along with the newly enabled US, which could be a fantastic opportunity for suppliers and operators alike in the coming months.

What we are seeing at Vermantia, and looking to provide for our operator partners, is variety and flexibility with which to deal with those different market challenges. Virtual Games has a lot to do with the graphics and the experience of the user, and obviously the technologies are very important too. But at the end of the day, mathematics and data sit at the core of gaming. Players are becoming better educated and looking for new games in different sports, along with more sophisticated mathematics and data-driven game engines. The maths always makes sense for the players’ wallet.

Then come the actual virtual sports. Prime sports like football and racing dominate the existing markets, yet lots of money is bet on innovative hybrid products, like our Virtual Horse Racing Roulette that thrives with our customers in the Caribbean. New markets like the US naturally demand virtual versions of their own prime sports. That’s why we have developed our award-winning virtual baseball game.

So, for Vermantia, a key strategy in our virtual games offering is variety and flexibility. Operators’ requirements change from country to country, as do the betting markets customers want to bet on, so it is important to offer our operators choice. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to virtual sports. For that reason, we have also integrated many game providers into our CONNECT platform so that operators can select among 25 different titles, effectively covering all their virtual needs, picking from whatever game types they want.

How do you aim to deliver tailor-made products with clients so diversely spread across different verticals and different countries?

A differentiated product offering catering for the variety of needs our partners have has always been a core value at Vermantia. We apply it to every product and service we offer. It is probably at it’s most apparent in the provision and presentation of live racing and sports. We offer the most comprehensive variety of live horse and greyhound racing of any supplier on the market and one of the reasons we do so is to give operators choice. What excites a customer in a shop in Lagos may not be what excites another in Bulgaria. As a result, we make sure operators can access a specific content mix that suits their needs, with bet markets, programming, scheduling and the whole layout adapted to their own customers.

We think the localising graphics, data feed and odds with which to have a bet are vitally important to put customers at ease. Any operator will tell you quality live racing and sports, presented well with readily available markets, is the sweet spot for all sportsbook customers. Of those three things, the presentation is arguably most important, as customers must be comfortable and familiar with what they’re watching. Virtuals is the same, with the game engine adapted to and compatible with the local custom and regulatory environment. This isn’t something we’ve arrived at recently at Vermantia – it’s what we have strived to achieve since day one. This is the reason our products, powered in a fully flexible manner by our CONNECT platform, give greater scope for choice than other options in the market.

How big is your lottery offering compared to other areas of your business?

A significant number of our partners, such as OPAP, Intralot and Lottomatica, are also lottery operators. But that doesn’t necessarily mean what we help them with is lottery number games. We do have a comprehensive set of numbers products, including instant win games, to complement their existing lottery draws. But, for many of these companies, it is our virtual games and live racing and sports that is of real benefit.

In recent years, operators have diversified their product portfolios, seeing the opportunity to cross-sell other offerings to existing customers and to attract new ones. Lottery operators then become bookmakers themselves, while bookmakers adopt number games. Consequently, we now offer a full spectrum of products across multiple channels to meet the demands of modern audiences. The definitions that once marked operators and those who supplied them have blurred significantly in recent times. Even the US market, which was one of the last vestiges of the clearly defined verticals, is changing; operators are discovering there are great opportunities for them to diversify and grow.

How does the Vermantia Live Betting Channel aim to increase player engagement?

Customers thrive on live sport and the better the quality of pictures and data you can provide them with, the more engaged they will be. When you put a television on the wall of a bookmaker or sports betting zone, you cross over into the world of entertainment – and those watching it need to be entertained. They need good-quality production values and high-definition graphics, alongside fast, accurate and easy-to-understand data.

A great example is our new European Racing Channel, which is a stunning vision of top-quality live racing with a betting focus. We’ve taken a great deal of time and effort to create the channel and are very proud of some of the new graphical elements, many of which will be familiar to Formula 1 fans. What data we then impart and how we present it is key, too, with enough information to entice customers but not too much so they are overloaded. It is then a question of streaming the right content mix to suit individual markets and customers within them, so the entertainment on offer is what they desire.

How important is ICE for Vermantia and the rest of the industry?

Very important. There are now more shows than ever, particularly with new jurisdictions opening up. But ICE is the big one, with more operators and suppliers under one roof than almost anywhere else. It is very important for us to showcase our products and services, of course, but it is also a great opportunity to catch up with clients and discuss their needs and how we can help them with a changing business environment. It is a great way of discovering what else is happening around the industry, which helps us plan our strategies for the coming year and beyond.

What products will Vermantia be showcasing at ICE this year?

We are very excited to be talking to operators about our market-leading live racing channels this year and explain how a bespoke, round-the-clock service will give them a competitive edge and help both attract and retain customers. They are packed with top-quality horse and greyhound racing from the UK, US, South Africa and Australia and are supported by Vermantia’s complete odds and data services. All visitors will have the chance to dive into a digitised, cashless, self-serviced betting experience, anchored by our award winning FLAVOR and V-POS self-service betting terminal solution, as well as our top-quality Virtual Sports powered by our proprietary CONNECT platform. Visitors and partners will be able to take a closer look at the company’s content driving technologies, enjoying the thrill of live action with less than one second latency, powered by Vermantia’s streaming solution.

What are the major challenges you face in 2019?

The key focus for us is to expand our live racing offering on the international stage, as well as the growth of our data and streaming services. We have seen from the progress of virtual sports in the last few years that there is a real opportunity to provide good-quality content as a customer immersion tool. What is less well-known, and where we need to help operators and their customers in some areas, is just how exciting live horse and greyhound racing can be when complemented with the right data and odds.

It’s all about offering tailor-made solutions for the operators, both in terms of innovative premium content and multiple distribution media delivery, as well as the development of cutting-edge solutions. Vermantia is uniquely positioned globally, bringing to players a real immersive betting experience through a multitude of channels, both in terms of content and data. We have been deploying live racing and virtual sports channels to new international markets for many years and we are confident 2019 will be a great year for further roll-outs, utilising core, revolutionary technologies.

Where does Vermantia aim to be this time next year?

Vermantia is a technology company at heart, with market-leading solutions proven to enhance customer engagement. We know whether it’s the excitement of live racing and sport or the graphical sophistication of virtuals, we have an offering that will entertain and increase revenues in any market. Evidently, as part of Arena’s group, racing will remain a point of excellence in both content and delivery.

In 2019, we want to further expand our data and streaming services, offering new options in both retail and online. We have invested a lot in our new retail self-service solutions, FLAVOR and V-POS, bundled with our premium content and the latest in cashless and mobile payment options. This completes an end-to-end solution which allows customers to act upon the pictures and data on show before them. Our obvious goal over the course of the next 12 months will be to have deployed these solutions to as many operators as possible, wherever they are in the world.
IN-DEPTH 16 August 2019
Roundtable: David vs Goliath – Can startups really disrupt the industry?

(AL) Alexander Levchenko – CEO, Evoplay Entertainment

Alexander Levchenko is CEO of innovative game development studio Evoplay Entertainment. He has overseen the rapid expansion of the company since it was founded in early 2017 with the vision of revolutionising the player experience.

(RL) Ruben Loeches – CMO, R Franco

Rubén Loeches is CMO at R. Franco Group, Spain’s most established multinational gaming supplier and solutions provider. With over 10 years working in the gambling, betting and online gaming industries, he is skilled in operations management and marketing strategy.

(JB) Julian Buhagiar – Co-Founder, RB Capital:

Julian Buhagiar is an investor, CEO & board director to multiple ventures in gaming, fintech & media markets. He has lead investments, M & As and exits to date in excess of $370m.

(DM) Dominic Mansour – CEO, Bragg Gaming Group:

Dominic Mansour has an extensive background of nearly 20 years in the gaming and lottery industry. He has a deep understanding of the lottery secto,r having been CEO at the UK-based Health Lottery, as well as building bingos.com from scratch, which he sold to NetPlay TV plc.

What does it take for a startup to make waves in gaming?

DM: On the one hand, it’s a bit like brand marketing; you build an identity, a reputation and a strategy. When you know what you stand for, you then do your best to get heard. That doesn’t necessarily require a TV commercial but ensuring whatever you do stands out from the crowd. Then you have to get out there and talk to people about it. 

AL: Being better than the competition is no longer enough; if you’re small, new and want to make a difference – you have to turn the industry on its head. Those looking to make waves need to come up with a new concept or a ground-breaking solution. Take Elon Musk, he didn’t found Tesla to improve the existing electric cars on the market, he founded it to create the industry’s first mass-market electric sports car. It’s the same for online gaming; if you want to make waves as a startup, you have to bring something revolutionary to the table.

JB: Unique IP is key, particularly in emerging (non-EU) markets. As does the ability to release products on time, with minimal downtime and/or turnaround time when issues inevitably occur. A good salesforce capable of rapidly striking partnerships with the right players is vital, as is not getting bogged down too early on in legal, operational and admin red tape.

How easy it for startups to bring their ideas to life? How do they attract capital?

AL: It depends on the people and ideas behind the startup. Of course – the wave of ‘unicorns’ is not what it used to be. Some time ago the hype was a lot greater in terms of investing in startups, but that’s changed now. Investors now want more detail – and even more importantly, to evaluate whether the startup has the capacity (as well as the vision) to solve the problem it set out to address. That’s not to say investors are no longer interested in startups – they certainly are – but now more than ever, it’s important for startups to understand their audience as well as dreaming big.

JB: To get to market quickly, you need a great but small, team. If slots or sportsbook, the mathematical engine and UX/UI are crucial. Having a lean, agile dev team that can rapidly turn wire framing and mathematical logic into product is essential. Paying more for the right team is sometimes necessary, especially when good resources are scarce (here’s looking at you, Malta and Gibraltar).

Building capital is a different beast altogether. You won’t be able to secure any funding until you have a working proof of concept and, even then, capital is likely to be drip fed. Be prepared to get a family and friends round early on to deliver a ‘kick-ass’ demo, then start looking at early-stage VCs that specialise in growth-stage assets.

How do you react when you see startups coming in with their plan for disruption?

RL: We welcome the innovation and fresh thinking startups bring. This is particularly the case in Latin America, with a market still in its infancy. One area we’d especially like to see startups making waves is in the slot development sector. Latin America is a young market that needs local innovation suited to its unique conditions – especially in regard to mobile gaming.

Operators eyeing the market have Europe‐focused core products, which creates a struggle to work to the requirements of players and regulators. To succeed there, it has become more important than ever to work with those with a knowhow of the local area to adapt products and games to besuitable from the off; we welcome the chance for local talent to develop and grow.

Do you think it’s easier for established companies to innovate and establish new ideas? 

AL: From a financial perspective, yes. It is without a doubt easier for incumbent companies to establish a pipeline of innovation via their R & D departments, as well as having the tools to hand for data gathering and analysis.

But it stops there. Startups hold court in every other way. Not only are they flexible, they can easily switch from one idea to another, change strategy instantly as the market demands and easily move team members around. Established companies know this – and this is why we’re seeing an emerging trend for established companies to acquire small, innovative online gaming start-ups. They have the right resources and unique ideas, as well as the ability to bring a fresh approach to businesses’ thinking.

RL: For me, it’s always going to be established companies. Only with the resources, industry experience and know‐how can a company apply technology and services that truly make a difference. Of course there are exceptions. But when it comes to providing a platform that can be approved by regulators across multiple markets – as well as suiting an operators’ multiple jurisdictions – it is simply impossible for a couple of young bright minds with a few million behind them to get this done.

DM: I actually think it’s harder for established companies. It’s key to differentiate between having a good idea and executing one. That’s where the big corporates struggle most. They’re full of amazing people with all sorts of great ideas but getting them through systems and processes is nearly impossible.

Is it essential to patent-protect innovative products?

AL: It’s a very interesting subject. If we take IT for example – patents can actually become a block to the evolutionary process within the industry. Of course, getting a patent future proofs yourself from the competition copying your concept but, having said that, if you’re looking to protect yourself from someone more creative, smarter and agile, you’ve probably lost the battle already!

In our industry everything is moving faster and research takes less time than the development itself. No matter how good you are at copy pasting, you can’t copy Google or Netflix. The most important thing is not the tech itself but rather its ‘use-case’ – or in other words, does it solve what it’s meant to solve? Competition is healthy and the key to innovation. If you spend your whole time looking behind you, you’ll never be able move forwards.

JB: Tricky question, and one that depends on what and where you launch this IP. It can be difficult to patent mathematical engines and logic, mostly because they’re re-treading prior art. Branding, artwork and UX is more important and can easily be copied, but the territories you launch will determine how protectable your IP will be once patented. US/EU/Japan is easy but expensive to protect in. But China/South East Asia is a nightmare to cover adequately. Specialised patent lawyers with experience in software, and ideally gaming, can help you better.