Canada’s Digital Media Companies to Watch (Part 1)

We shine the spotlight on seven small-but-mighty innovators shaking up the marketplace with weapons like mobile rewards, live-event gaming and accounting software (yes, we said accounting software). Meet the rising stars of the Canadian digital media world

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Marketing shines the spotlight on seven small-but-mighty innovators shaking up the marketplace with weapons like mobile rewards, live-event gaming and accounting software (yes, we said accounting software). Meet the rising stars of the Canadian digital media world.

Endloop Mobile (Toronto)

By getting a jump on the app market, Endloop Mobile mastered the mobile space early and is now showing agencies how the game is played

Talk about foresight. Sensing that Apple’s iPad had potential to be more than merely a media consumption tool, the team at Endloop Studios (now called Endloop Mobile) quickly built an iPad productivity app called iMockups so it could launch in the App Store at the same time iPads hit the market.

Though Endloop started by building what chairman Ken Seto calls “small little iPhone apps” in April 2009, it was the success of iMockups that put Endloop on the app map. “Apple really took to iMockups and helped us by featuring it a few times,” says Seto, who founded the company with his brother Garry.

The app has made roughly $300,000 in revenue, says Seto. Endloop’s apps currently total about one million downloads, a large part of them from Chicken Balls, a game that’s part Angry Birds, part pinball. After launching in April, Endloop partner and CEO Kerry Morrison says Chicken Balls HD reached the No. 1 “Top Paid Game” and No. 2 “Top Paid App” in Canada in the App Store.

Building on this momentum, the Seto brothers have co-founded a sister company. Launched last November, Massive Damage is a fully funded start-up that’s building a location-based social gaming platform.

Meanwhile, over at Endloop, things continue to expand. The recent name change from Endloop Studios to Endloop Mobile reflects the shop’s expansion beyond the iPhone and iPad. The focus today includes Android and Windows Mobile 7. “We’re doubling down on the services we’re doing in mobile development,” says Morrison.

He adds that Endloop has some big-name clients, such as Johnson & Johnson and NBCUniversal. “Doing a lot of agency work is our big focus these days,” he says. “We want to get in and work alongside agencies to figure out what we can do to make them a little bit better in the mobile space.”

He’s looking to build up the team now that the company is almost entirely focused on the service side. “In the next year, if we had 20, 25 people doing work here on a slightly bigger scale, we’d be very happy.”

Would they be as happy to be bought by a bigger company? Morrison says the shop has already been approached by a couple of agencies. But for right now, he says it’s nice to be a focused and nimble boutique. But he adds that, longer term, it would help to be part of a large network and get direct access to bigger clients, brands and budgets. “As we raise our valuation and get some more billings in the door, that would be a nice option… but is that the only reason we’re doing this? No. Not at all.”

Number of employees: 7
Revenue: $1 million+
Fast Fact: iMockups is a “Top 10 Paid Productivity App” in the U.S. and winner of the Applied Arts Awards for Best Mobile App 2010
Venture Capital Funding: None. “We don’t need it,” says CEO Kerry Morrison. “Though in the future we might be open to offers as we develop more of our own products.”

Broadband TV (Vancouver)

Founder Shahrzad Rafati helps marketers profit from piracy

Before Shahrzad Rafati came onto the scene, companies such as Warner Bros, Sony, Electronic Arts and the NBA looked at fan-generated YouTube and Facebook videos of their stars as piracy. Fans, of course, saw them as harmless odes to their heroes.

Rafati, 30, believed that rather than irritate consumers with pesky lawsuits, the fan and the corporation could live in harmony (and the company could make money).

Rafati started Broadband TV in 2008, a year before graduating from the University of British Columbia with a computer science degree. She hit upon an idea that would quickly catapult her fledging online programming company into the big leagues: creating the technology to find user-uploaded copies on the web, curate them—a nice term for removing any objectionable content—and attach them to ads.

Voila!—a pirated video becomes a bonafide rebranded, revenue-generating company asset.

For example, let’s say a Toronto Raptors fan captures a video clip of his favourite player dunking and then posts it to YouTube. BroadbandTV will hunt the footage down, rebrand it as official NBA content, and sell ads against it.

“We help video publishers control these user-uploaded copies, track [them] and ultimately monetize that traffic,” says Rafati.

Another way the company works with video publishers is to monetize their own professionally shot content through BroadbandTV’s Viso brand of 20 content channels, which include television shows, sports, trailers, music and games.

Rafati says clients can track how people are consuming their content and leverage this knowledge to promote a new television show, movie or game release. In other words, it’s a bit like having a huge focus group that generates you money.

While Rafati continues to bring content partners on board and work with more advertisers, the next step is the launch of a mobile app next year. The product will suggest video content for users based on their interests and personal preferences.

Number of employees: 25
Revenue: Doesn’t disclose
Fast Fact: The company has 230 video publishers on board and more than 1 million subscribers on its Viso channels.
Venture Capital Funding: Less than $1 million in seed money and currently looking to raise $5 million through Series A financing.

InGamer Sports (Guelph, Ont.)

Co-founder Nic Sulsky taps into the tribal nature of sports with social gaming. No wonder legacy media giants want to be on his team.

The nature of content is changing. As Nic Sulsky sees it, with so many on-demand options out there, sporting events are some of the only content people will still watch in real-time. Plus, because of second and third screens, audiences are fragmenting even further from conventional broadcast TV. “They watch content with a competing device in their hand,” says Sulsky.

To accommodate audience fragmentation, InGamer Sports—the Guelph, Ont.-based company of which Sulsky is co-founder and co-CEO—developed a social gaming platform that’s utilized in conjunction with live events. The platform’s current focus is sports, although InGamer has its sights set on elections and awards shows in the future.

The platform at InGamer.com allows users to play the role of head coach in real-time as they watch a live sports game. They pick a game to play based on live sporting events, then, before the game starts, form their own squad by selecting players and a captain. Keeping an eye on the stats and standings during the game, users can switch players as the game progresses. The players on their squad earn points based on their performance in the game, and users can start “rivalries” within the platform to compare their ranks with anyone else on the site.

“The great thing about sports and real-time events is this there’s a finite, predictable period of time where audiences are going to be engaged with something,” says Sulsky.

The target is gamers and casual sports fans, says Sulsky, and users can play on their computer, phone, tablet or on Facebook or Twitter.

“We want people to engage in our experience who have never done this type of thing before,” says Sulsky. “There’s a stereotype around sports gaming; people think it’s a guy-centric thing and that it takes a lot of time and there’s a lot of management involved.” He explains it only takes 10 seconds to join and that 52% of InGamer’s users are female.

Founded in 2008, the company did its pilot launch last year with CBC and Hockey Night in Canada. The platform also supports football and baseball, and will be launching soccer in the fall. In 2012, it will also incorporate UFC. Cricket is also high on its development list.

“We believe the future of the live-event industry is all about community and we know we’ve built the ideal platform to engage that community,” says Sulsky.

Number of employees: 6
Revenue: unable to disclose
Competitors: GameSlam.com, 1up.me, SCAInteractive.com
Fast Fact: average visit length is 76 minutes
Venture Capital Funding: $0 (self-financed)

CHECK BACK FOR PART 2 OF CANADA’S DIGITAL MEDIA COMPANIES TO WATCH.
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