George Fotopoulos, Vermantia: Streaming’s shift from commodity to necessity

Advancements to technology in recent years mean that the low latency streaming of live events is now both achievable and cost effective even for betting operators with a huge network of retail shops. 

And this is why Vermantia reacted quickly to build out its streaming service, focused on both online and offline delivery, but crucially tailored to the needs of global betting operators.

Vermantia COO George Fotopoulos spoke to SBC about streaming’s now established role in the betting value chain, while opening up on development of the company’s ‘sub second’ latency service and how it has created new betting opportunities previously lost to delays.

SBC: How vital has streaming become in the betting world?

GF: Streaming was always a commodity in the online world, especially for the big operators who always had this complementary service of showing live sports, racing events and tournaments to enhance the user experience. Streaming was always there but the situation has changed in the last couple of years. What has always been a stumbling block is the delay. Now, this changed with the service being faster and more cost-effective.  

What else? It has become a necessity, not a commodity in the sense that everyone wants to have it – regardless of whether they are online/mobile or in retail – because everyone wants to utilise, as best they can, betting opportunities right up to the last minute of a match allowed for betting. Live betting is inextricably linked to technology. 

They want to make sure that this is offered to the players. Normally you would see a typical online service two years ago having a latency of up to 15-20 seconds, where now you see, if not sub seconds, a latency of just two or three seconds. 

SBC News George Fotopoulos, Vermantia: Streaming’s shift from commodity to necessity
George Fotopoulos

If you want to bring a new level of engagement to the customers you need to be aligned with today’s demands for streaming in real-time. It is of paramount importance that this is done seamlessly on a 24/7 basis for all retail, online and mobile audiences.

This is why our broadcast team created in-house ultra-low latency streaming two years ago, providing our partners with a bespoke solution in a less than 1-sec latency. 

SBC: Is your own supply weighted more towards the retail or online side?

GF: We don’t really distinguish the service, or have a preference for online or retail. We like to think that we have a universal solution that’s applicable for both. The increasing demand for low latency streaming from land-based operators has been evident for a quite long time now. 

Low-latency streams are essential components of a complete betting offering. Customers demand for top-quality content comes hand-in-hand with the need for interactive user experience. With content close to real-time, operators can give their players the ability to place their bets upon the on-screen action whether this is in retail or online. 

The majority of our clients are based and focused in retail, for which the service is far more complex than online. While online is not constrained by any infrastructure developments, in the high-street you have to take into consideration the infrastructure requirements that comes with both the available bandwidth in the shop as well as the old telecom lines that are in place in many cases. We’ve seen this can be quite restrictive in some jurisdictions like Italy and even the UK. 

However, we can serve our partners globally through our flexible streaming solution, creating a tailor-made approach according to their infrastructure, either for our low-latency streaming or for our new addition which streams with less than one second latency. 

SBC: Would you say the benefits of sub second latency are more apparent online?

GF: It’s important wherever the operator is offering live sports betting, racing or high frequency games like virtual or keno where you have a draw every couple of minutes. So compared with when it was up to 20 seconds, you have a timeframe lost in the past but which has now become available for betting. 

Our service is designed to tackle the most critical challenges for both retail and online betting: stream latency – and the loss of revenue and customer retention that comes with it.

SBC: What are your key markets? Has this changed at all in recent times?

GF: We are fortunate enough to have our streaming service available and deployed to most of our customers across the globe. So if you take a look at our global footprint you will see that we are mostly focused on Europe from established markets such as the UK, Italy, Spain to emerging locations such as Romania, Germany, Malta, Cyprus as well as to our home market Greece – but we also expanded in the previous years in Latin America, in the Caribbean region, in Eastern Europe and the CIS. 

But, when it comes to streaming, you always have to take into account the availability of the broadband connection. For instance, in Africa, a region with huge potential in terms of customer base, you can imagine that streaming in retail is not the best way to deliver, particularly in rural areas where internet connectivity may be unavailable or poor. 

On the flip side satellite broadcasting is the ideal one. Offering high-efficiency coding that delivers great picture quality while broadcasting at the minimum bandwidth requirements is key. We allow new locations to be served immediately with minimum intervention at the retail network’s endpoint.  

Whereas online is agnostic to the geographical location. So essentially you could offer a streaming service and have it available regardless of the physical location of the player.

There is also a hybrid approach in place. Recently, we developed a new hybrid solution, consisting of a field proven full HD compact device; therefore we are now enabling simultaneous satellite and streaming broadcast methods. 

SBC: Taking this back a few years, why did you choose to build out your streaming service? Does it set you up to target more gaming territories?

GF: Up until three years ago, most of our productions were in the high-street and delivery was done via satellite. But, we can see that the technology has shifted and is now there to support other means of delivery like streaming. In an era where it is all about omnichannel, a trusted service along with digital-first tools motivates customers

Streaming has a key role to play here; actually it is one of the main tools to encourage and attract impulsive buyers, displaying the latest odds and action-packed content in real time. 

If you also had asked me three years ago, what is the sweet point when it comes to the price of the service, I would say that if you were the operator of 100 or 150 shops streaming was probably a more cost-effective solution than satellite. Now, with the advancements in technology, this is the same even if the number is, for example, 1,000. 

The above facts led us to focus on streaming and we also see that there is a shift to the experience of the players who want more and more information available to them. Having this data presented with the live streams is becoming mandatory, both online and in retail. 

Our R&D team has focused on the best applicable streaming solution for Vermantia. It’s the result of almost 13 years of broadcast experience serving our partners with scalable solutions via our satellite network and capacity. 

Low latency and ultra-low latency streaming service came as the physical evolution of this long-standing experience of our broadcast hub. Keeping in mind that we are not a telecoms company, we are not inventing the wheel here, but what we have done is to design a streaming service to the needs of the betting operators. 

SBC: When I think of streaming, my mind just goes to racing. Is this a misconception, particularly in terms of your service, or is racing the dominant sport for streaming? 

GF: You are actually close to reality in some regards. For the UK in particular, horse racing and even dog racing are very popular, but of course, this is not the case for other markets. There are a wide range of live sports and games. We have diversified in this aspect. 

Basically, it depends on the region. So, if you ask me about the UK, yes, it is mostly racing content, whereas in Greece, it is a mixture of things. And then in Italy, 90% are for virtuals.

Thereby, diversified content is critical. Thanks to our CONNECT platform, we ensure that operators can create the right product mix for the market and adapt rapidly to any changes. 

SBC: With so many sports played behind closed doors to stop the spread of COVID-19, has the importance of lower latency been magnified? For example in racing, is it vital for the customer to be seeing truly live action? 

GF: It is yes, absolutely. That’s applicable regardless of the sport. It’s undeniably critical to deliver with a minimum latency. The demand for live horse racing is always there. Even during lockdown, when sports events and race tracks were shut down, the need to keep betting available was obvious. 

This is one of the reasons we also designed and delivered our pre-recorded product. Designed with player experience in mind, the game is based on a selection of hand-picked greyhound races from multiple UK tracks, according to strict quality criteria. 

We took historic live footage of greyhound races from the UK specifically and turned them into a top quality virtual product with HD real content that is constantly updated, extending the reach of our exclusive racing content to the virtual gaming markets.

SBC: And finally, the market for live streaming is a competitive one. What would you say are the key differentiators for your service?

GF: I come to double down on what I previously said. We are not a telecom provider and we are not out there to beat the big telecom or streaming providers, but what differentiates us is that we have both the expertise to design flexible broadcasting solutions as well as the betting know-how. Actually, most of us here are coming from this sector. 

We combine them and create industry-specific solutions with all the required components and each time our team translates it into SLA operations and bespoke projects. We are able to customise this service as part of a greater turnkey solution.

Actually, it further solidified the company’s wide range of turnkey services from content sourcing, hosting and bespoke channel production to optimum delivery, providing streaming service to our customers either as a stand-alone service – SaaS (Streaming as a Service) as well as bundled with our premium content, as it can be forming part of our fully customisable solution on our CONNECT platform.

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