Playing to win

Graham Rivers, CEO, WIN, discusses the mobile content and services market in the Middle East

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Playing to win Graham Rivers, CEO, WIN, is optimistic about the potential of the MEA region for his business.
By  Roger Field Published  July 19, 2010

With content and applications becoming a key part of the mobile landscape, Graham Rivers, CEO of UK-based managed services player WIN, tells CommsMEA about his company’s growing portfolio and plans for the Middle East.

CommsMEA: Tell me a about WIN. How did the company start, and how is it positioned in the market today?

Graham Rivers: The company began life as a business called Sprintel Networks which sent share price information to pagers. When SMS came along they spotted the opportunity to offer similar services using text messaging, and that is how WIN began life about 16 years ago. We began by providing real time information on share prices and news across a range of categories in what is now known as SMS alerts to customers.

In doing that we got integrated into the operators networks and then when premium rate billing came along we were able to extend into traffic aggregation, so the business grew rapidly on the back of that. It floated on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange in 2004 and at that point about 85% of the company’s profits were from traffic aggregation.

CommsMEA: What are the main areas that the company is involved in today?

GR: Since then the company has changed quite dramatically. Today only about 12% of our gross profits are derived from traffic aggregation. The biggest area that we now operate in is managed services, predominantly for network operators but also for handset vendors and major enterprises.

These are generally mobile content related services, or marketing related. A lot of what we do is also related to customer relationship management, campaign support and so on, and that now constitutes about 58% of our profits.

Two other areas of the business that have grown rapidly and continue to do so is the business we do with media corporations to help their marketing efforts, and customer relationship management, and they are now running at about 16% to 17% of our profits.

We also moved into providing interactive services for broadcasters. We supply our biggest customer, the BBC, with interactive services for television and radio, and we also have a number of other broadcast customers.

CommsMEA: What exactly does WIN do for the BBC?

GR: We provide the ability for the audience to interact live with programmes and that means we have to aggregate input from sources such as text messaging, MMS, video, voice, email, Twitter feeds and some other social networks. We aggregate that content into a single view in the studio, so everything is presented in one window to the programme editor or presenter. This can also move into other forms of interaction like voting and quizzes, but it is all built around the same basic technology.

CommsMEA: What is WIN’s involvement in the mobile music sector? Is that a significant part of the business?

GR: Music is a big part of what we do. It isn’t our biggest single category but it is certainly an important one. The largest customer we have for music is Sony Ericsson’s Play Now service, which we manage in 23 countries.

We also recently announced that we are running Qtel’s music portal, which is known as Mosaic. Music is a big part of the business, but it is only a part, and we are still strongly engaged in content that relates to news, entertainment and sport – those are probably our three biggest categories.

We can provide everything from the content acquisition, management and storage through to the front-end portal merchandising and management.

CommsMEA: How do you view the mobile music business? Is there much potential for operators?

GR: There is very strong growth in sales of music digitally across all media, mobile being one of the biggest, but it is also becoming more difficult to find the commercial models to support it and clearly in some of the emerging markets where you have got very low GDPs and earnings, the revenues that you can derive are relatively small, so it is aggregating volume at a very thin margin which is really what is driving a lot of these services.

We do work with all of the major operators and our biggest single customer is Vodafone. Other customers include Deutsche Telecom, Orange, Telefonica and O2. We tend to follow them territorially, so while Western Europe is our main market we are also entering new markets globally through those operators, but we don’t really have any presence in the Middle East or Africa through them.

CommsMEA: How do you view the Middle East as a market?

GR: We started our expansion into the region by bringing on board an individual who had got quite a lot of experience working in that area and knows a lot of the operators well, and Qtel was our first major foray into the Middle East.

I think it has got fantastic potential when you look at the population, the state of the infrastructure and the importance of wireless networks in the region, but aside from the luxuries of the UAE and Saudi Arabia that have got money, many other countries have tremendous potential, and we are very keen to be part of it.

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