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Q&A: Vermantia CEO on live streaming, difficult markets and regulatory headwinds

EGR Technology speaks to Vermantia CEO Filippos Antonopoulos about the Greek supplier’s content solutions, the rise of virtuals and new products.

On the back of a major agreement with Greek gambling group OPAP, Vermantia CEO Filippos Antonopoulos is looking to continue to grow his live content platform across the globe.

Ventures into the Asian and African markets, as well as the management of payment solutions provider OKTO, are on the former Wall Street analyst’s mind as he looks to expand his platforms.

Here, Antonopoulos tells EGR Technology how his firm entered the gambling industry, how he plans on retaining its position as a major competitor and what the future holds for the industry.

 

EGR Technology: What was the driving factor behind founding Vermantia? What did you feel the market was missing that you could provide?

Filippos Antonopoulos (FA): At the time there wasn’t a lot of content inside of betting shops and very little of it was live. We thought that where we saw live content, the KPIs were very strong and in order to increase live content in shops you needed to create, what was at the time, a broadcasting platform à la BSkyB.

We put together a television and broadcasting know-how with a management team who had background in those fields. We mixed it with retail betting and gaming knowledge and that was how we addressed that market gap.

EGR Technology: On your new deal with OPAP, how did this come about and what do you hope to achieve through the partnership?

FA: This agreement for the live sports channel is one more stop on the way to ever increasing the amount and the entertainment factor of live content inside shops.

When we started Vermantia, you would get the consumption of content, but it would be with an ante-post betting approach on the cashier. By now what you have got is a 50/50 split between the cashier and the self-service betting terminals. On top of that, an even greater split in favour of live betting versus pre-match betting.

The live sports channel with OPAP is an evolution of live sports content but delivered to an audience that places bets in-play and autonomously on self-service machines. It is a lot more dynamic; it is in real-time and it is automated. It is a lot broader in terms of international content and content rights.

EGR Technology: Can you explain a bit about the CONNECT platform – how it works and what solutions it offers?

FA: CONNECT aggregates and delivers content to shops but it also aggregates the data and delivers this via a single API.

A unified data feed into a bet acceptance system saves a lot of trouble and takes new content to the market faster. This was a requirement from our clientele and is something we delivered upon a few years ago.

What we are now trying to do with CONNECT is expand into cashier and other retail systems so that we can add the unifying layer between all the different vendors that enter a shop.

Back in the day, what you’d probably have is one or two vendors that would cater solutions to any one single betting operator. By now, you’ve got four, five, six, maybe seven or eight. You’ve got two to three feed providers, one betting platform for retail, another for online or sometimes different betting platforms for pre-match and in-play.

Then you can have two or three different virtual providers and all of these vendors have different back-end systems and different ways with which the self-service terminals interact with this content.

We come and aggregate these platforms so that what we call the peripherals in the shop, the cashier, the self-service terminals and the TVs, all have one landing spot which is Vermantia CONNECT.

EGR Technology: How can you guarantee ultra-low latency across the globe?

FA: The answer to that is almost 13 years of aggregated R&D around broadcast. Going back to before ultra-low latency, we were the first company in Europe, before the likes of BSkyB or Telecinco, that implemented a HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) encoding protocol.

We were the first company in Europe, not only in gaming but across television as well, that adopted the next-gen technology into a project in 2017. We have a long-standing experience of R&D around broadcast and low latency and over-the-top (OTT) streaming is part of that evolution.

We have a team that innovates, there’s a team that operates, there’s a team that translates it all into SLA-back-end operations and designs custom projects.

EGR Technology: What will the impact of virtual sports have on the gambling industry in the future?

FA: I don’t think it is a coincidence that horseracing in the UK is moving towards a model of watch-and-bet and away from the old model of bet-and-watch. There is no question, that in my opinion, virtuals also operate very naturally as a complete and continuous streaming service.

Online, we have what we call scheduled virtuals whereby the players know that there is a lot of content so every three minutes there will be another race. If you stack many virtual games, you could even reduce that to every 10-15 seconds.

Streaming plays a very important role. On top of that, virtuals have an ever-increasing quality in terms of graphics, not only the graphics themselves, but they are high definition and soon they will be 4K.

EGR Technology: How do you see esports evolving in terms of live betting and is that a market that you are following?

FA: We fell upon esports three or four years ago. Not because we were esports players or fanatics ourselves, but because we are always looking out for gaming products that are based on a transmitted video.

That is what esports is fundamentally all about. You have to produce and visualise the game that is being played and then stream it to where the betting consumption will take place, whether that is online or in retail.

You can notice that together with the rise of esports is the rise of streaming services such as Twitch. If you read any kind of industry report, it shows esports is an enormous economy that is demographically extremely dynamic. Without a doubt, if it has not happened already it will become one of the major betting segments in the years to come.

EGR Technology: How are the African and Asian markets working out for Vermantia?

FA: Asia has been very tough. The Western hemisphere product we have been specialising in in Europe, Africa and Latin America does not travel very well to the Asian market.

On the contrary, we have been quite successful in the African market, sub-Saharan Africa predominantly, with virtuals, live racing and sports. The same can be said in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is also never good to generalise things. You can’t really group continents as one as even grouping a country as one might prove dangerous.

The habits within a single country could vary within micro-societies but I will say that our products travelled well wherever you have ubiquitous retail networks that offer what is eventually omnichannel products.

EGR Technology: How did being acquired by ARC impact Vermantia and its ability to secure a larger global presence?

FA: When ARC invested in Vermantia and we became the go-to broadcasting and technology vehicle for ARC, it automatically expanded the reach of this broadcast to all of the markets that enjoy racing products from the UK. It also works in collaboration to bring Australian, South African and US racing to broadcast.

Having a strong partner with which we collaborate very well with accelerates growth both organically and via jumps.

EGR Technology: As co-founder of OKTO, can you explain what it offers as a payment solution and why consumers should use it?

FA: OKTO is an older company than Vermantia. It was founded in 2003 and it is the second largest payment processor in Greece.

The vision when I took over management of OKTO was that with such a strong existing system and operational knowledge of transacting close to €1.5bn, if we could bridge our deep knowledge of the gaming industry and how the player requires embedded payments systems then we could actually build something that is meaningful and has a place in the gaming market across Europe and perhaps the world.

I’m very optimistic and ambitious about the expansion of OKTO and the scaling up of the business into the gaming industry, with a particular focus on digital payments in retail, and the pursuit for true mobile-on-premise experience.

EGR Technology: OKTO touts its product as key to ‘boosting player engagement and revenue’. Can you take us through the process?

FA: Let’s consider retail betting on autonomous devices for the moment. If one is able to embed real money payment institutions and electronic money licenses onto those self-service terminals and you go in with an entirely digital, cashless, yet always real money bet placement then what you have is a very strong disruption of the retail experience to the benefit and betterment of said experience for the player.

The player walks in, they have their money on the mobile wallet, they interact directly with an available self-service terminal and they can cash out or store their winnings on their mobile device and collect later.

The fact that you bypass the cashier, the fact that you bypass cash, the fact that you bypass cash management and even paper vouchers – that is extremely powerful.

This follows the trend of major retailers such as Amazon or Apple stores where it’s all about “grab and go” automated payments and more will follow. Now, Vermantia with OKTO can do it as well in the retail betting environment.

EGR Technology: How have 2019 regulatory changes across various European markets impacted Vermantia?

FA: As a CEO, my job is to try to succeed in predicting the regulatory changes and trends in compliance and regulation and steer the ship accordingly. You do have regulatory changes and some of those are adverse, at least in the short term, to gaming operators or gaming vendors.

It could be changes that makes it a little bit more difficult to enter into a market or to market your online services. They can get a little bit costlier in terms of tax increases also. It can also be more difficult to onboard a player with the increase in KYC and anti-money laundering regulations.

At the same time, if as investors and managers, we can anticipate these trends and create solutions that go with the flow of regulatory changes then at the end of the day, we can potentially benefit from it.

You’ve got an ongoing trend of buckling down on responsible gaming and higher taxation. These things are all part of the industry and you can still be very successful within these sets of rules.

EGR Technology: How has headcount been impacted by any of these changes or the tough Asian market?

FA: We continue to grow the teams of both Vermantia and OKTO rapidly and by attracting very strong talent and building on the talent we already have; we are looking at reaching the 200-headcount mark.

I think that if we continue recruiting strong colleagues, we will continue to see exponential returns to our current plans and investments.

EGR Technology: What is OKTO’s plans for the next 12-18 months? Any new partnerships or expansions on the horizon?

FA: We are going to emerge very strongly in Italy, Spain and Romania. There is a lot of action going on with operators in these markets.

We are looking to leverage on our market-leading position in Greece. Within the next three to six months you can expect to see a lot coming from these four markets.

I would like to believe there will also be a couple of specific products that will be first to market across Europe – and it will be something that is really game changing.

 

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Filippos Antonopoulos is founder and CEO at Vermantia. He started the company in 2007 after building up his know-how in Latin America’s and Europe’s gaming industries. Since then he has overseen the expansion of its portfolio in the creation, aggregation, management, and delivery of sports, gaming, social and media content, allowing Vermantia to partner with customers in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa.

 

Published at EGR Global. interview taken by Joe Levy.

 

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