Sofia-based Viblast inks contract and will stream World Cup

June 20, 2014

[Viblast in the media - originally published at inventures.eu on 20 June 2014]

The big World Cup game is starting and stuck at work, you are reduced to gnawing at your desk in frustration every time you see that dreaded buffering sign just seconds away from a free kick. Gnaw no more. Bulgarian-based Viblast offers an innovative solution for HD streaming and, less than two months after its official launch, has bagged several contracts, including one to facilitate the streaming parts of the World Cup event to Bulgarian audiences, to the collective relief of office furniture everywhere.

The initial agreement with the Bulgarian National Television is for pilot streaming of the BNT World channel, targeted at Bulgarians abroad, which is already rolling. The idea is to test the technology in stages and to gradually include the other channels from the national broadcaster’s portfolio. In order to secure the partnership they went all the way to the top, CEO Stefan Dimov explains: “We presented directly to BNT’s General Manager Vyara Ankova, who liked the idea and in principle believes in using innovative technologies to improve the BNT’s services.”

In talks with Spain and Italy

Everyone’s favorite topic these days, the World Cup, for which BNT dusted off the HD channel they use to broadcast big sporting events, is also part of those plans. But more than that, for the company it means “validation of the service and trust from future clients and partners,” Dimov says. For now, although both BNT and Viblast are eager to roll out the full package as early as possible, growing pains means they will most likely only manage for the second half of the event.

Not stopping with Bulgaria, Viblast has also secured a paying customer in the US – a large OTT supplier, servicing the military. Other networks have expressed interest as well and the team is in talks with Spanish TVE and CNBC Italy.

The Viblast team scooping up the WebRTC award in London. Photo credit: ViblastIt all began with the World Cup ...

Even though it was only officially launched in March, Viblast’s service was born as a side project during the previous World Cup, when developers at Setelis Labs experienced some desk-gnawing moments of their own. Building on the often-vilified peer-to-peer technology, the team created a software layer that allows seamless streaming by sharing bits of information with everyone else who is watching. The process is seamless for viewers and does not require additional installations, because it relies on WebRTC. Their ingenuity is partly because they turned to the fairly new WebRTC standards right before they became popular. As a result, they were among the first to offer a working platform based on the standards, which this year won them the best innovation prize at the WebRTC Global Summit in London.

In the beginning, however, the software was no more than an in-house pet for close to three years before it was spun off into a separate company. When investment fund LAUNCHub expressed interest in the fall of 2013 Viblast was born to Stefan Dimov, Petar Bozhkov and Lyubomir Chorbadzhiev. The trio has secured a total of 200.000 Euros from LAUNCHub in two installments and are now focused on signing on more paying customers by September, when they plan to go for a Series A round of funding.

Riding on the virtual highway

They have also been busy reaping awards at pitching competitions and showcasing their product locally and abroad. At the DigitalK conference, they won the mini seedcamp competition, leaving the jury of seasoned venture capitalists itching to write a check, and during last weekend’s betapitch Sofia, they were awarded tickets to both betapitch Global and The European Pirate Summit.  

Viblast’s appeal to investors is that their potential customers include anyone who has video content and wants to make it available online in high definition. The way Viblast’s pricing works, broadcasters will be paying based on the traffic they have saved while using the technology. Roughly it comes out at about half the amount they would be paying for broadcasting the conventional way.

But money is not always everything, and what their clients may value most is saving face when avoiding high-profile breakdowns like ABC’s Oscars 2014 fiasco. Viblast’s forte, Dimov says, is actually live video, “especially in high traffic peaks during big events broadcast by the media that generate strong interest in a short period of time. In most cases, in order to maintain the service in peak moments, the broadcaster is faced with unforeseen expenses, while our technology works in reverse and the more viewers there are, the better it is for the network.” In other words, Viblast have created a service where the more really is the merrier and traffic-related crashes are a thing of the past. On the virtual highways, that is.

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