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Interview: Tripleplay CEO Steve Rickless on the company’s move to Uniguest

Following its recent acquisition by Uniguest, Tripleplay CEO Steve Rickless talks to Jo Ruddock about the strategic thinking behind the deal and what the future holds as part of this enlarged family

Tripleplay is heading towards its 20th anniversary. What changes have you seen in the industry over this time?
Market acceptance of IP and software has been a monumental change, it has really elevated our platform to the mainstream, having spent a number of years in the shadows as we competed against hardware vendors pushing appliances and delivering across AV networks. This acceptance has also seen the convergence of IT with AV as both come to terms with one another and become more aware of their new trust in each facet.

Your focus is on IPTV and digital signage solutions. What are the benefits of IPTV?
IPTV takes a source, whatever format that is and from whatever source, and allows its mass distribution to either media players, smart TVs, desktops or mobile devices; IPTV is about more than just distributing live broadcast content, it is also about enabling video communications from one to many and doing so in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the network or integrity of security.

Uniguest recently announced the acquisition of Tripleplay. How do Tripleplay’s solutions complement Uniguest’s offering and what was the strategic thinking behind the deal?
Tripleplay has been operating at a very high level for a few years now, delivering innovative and professional solutions while also maintaining an exceptional level of growth and profitability. Through our business, Uniguest is opening up a number of new channels and markets for its solutions, but also enhancing its own offering into the hospitality and aged care space.

Together we’ve created a 350-person strong business, spread across the globe, delivering technology solutions into every market sector; there is a long-term strategic vision for our solutions and we can see that together we are much stronger than we are apart. There was a lot of interest in Tripleplay, but we had to find the right partner to ensure our business continued to thrive and with Uniguest we only see opportunity and complementary technology, and that’s why we decided to work together.

“There was a lot of interest in Tripleplay, but we had to find the right partner to ensure our business continued to thrive”

Uniguest operates in a number of markets in which Tripleplay isn’t currently active. Do you see opportunities for growth here?
We absolutely see opportunity from Uniguest’s expertise. The hotel market is one we have worked in a lot across the world, but we’ve not viewed it as a key global market for several years as we strengthened our hand in stadiums, arenas, banking and corporate environments. With the introduction of our solutions to Uniguest’s clients, and vice versa, we can see a real opportunity to grow Uniguest’s brand outside of the USA, and we can see an opportunity to expand adoption of Tripleplay’s hotel and aged care solutions through Uniguest and our sister company, Touchtown. 

Uniguest also acquired Onelan in 2018. What benefits will a combined Tripleplay and Onelan offer to the market?
Onelan has several solutions that Tripleplay needed in its portfolio such as interactive wayfinding and room booking, and Tripleplay had an IPTV platform that Onelan needed in its portfolio; so it was a match made in heaven really. When you take away the cross over from a digital signage perspective our product set is very complementary, and even with digital signage we can see that both our solutions have a niche they fit into that will help us to target industries we previously walked away from. So, while the market might not understand that straight away, we can see huge opportunities to enhance the service we can both provide to existing clients and in future opportunities.

How do you see Tripleplay developing over the next few years as part of the Uniguest family?
With this partnership we now have financial leverage we have never had in our 18 years as a business, we are backed by a strong, stable and keen backer in Uniguest and we intend to use that to drive our industry forward and make our own platform even better. There will undoubtedly be challenges to overcome as we merge Tripleplay with Onelan and integrate our product sets together, but we are taking a logical and sensible approach to that and will make it happen in a way that does not negatively impact our clients and allows us to deliver above and beyond what we had planned. There is no rush, there is no urgency, we have two very well run, very stable businesses currently and we will be doing our utmost to ensure the service we deliver is at least as good but likely better than it has ever been.

And what about the wider market? Do you expect to see more consolidation in the coming years?
As we’ve gone through this process, we have learned that consolidation is absolutely the way the market is going; we know there are a number of companies looking at acquisitions and mergers, and we know where those are likely to be. It makes sense for digital signage companies to consolidate, but what makes more sense is for digital signage companies to consolidate with IPTV platforms as the market finally realises that the message we first spoke about in 2008 is the one they should be shouting themselves; IPTV and digital signage should be a single platform solution.

You recently held your annual User Group day. How did it go and did any interesting topics come up for discussion during the event?
There were obviously questions around our acquisition/merger, and we were pleased to welcome Lee Hogan and Matt Goche from Uniguest as well as Hugh Coghill-Smith from Onelan to the event to discuss with our clients what the future holds; and we think we addressed those concerns. But what we are still finding is that our clients’ focus is, more and more each year, on helping us to enhance our user experience, simplifying workflows and making digital signage and IPTV a quick and easy job for anybody in a business to get involved in. But along with that we see more requirement for enhanced services from a training perspective. As the kind of user we sell to changes we need to ensure we allow them to be self-sufficient; marketing people love new platforms to communicate through, but they don’t want to constantly re-learn a technology, read in-depth technical documents or call a helpline to find out how to schedule some content.

What do you see as the next frontier in the drive for greater fan engagement? And are you wary of a tipping point where it distracts from the sporting event?
Tripleplay has traditionally stayed away from the in-bowl experience; we focus on everything else, every other area of an arena or stadium. What we have seen is a real drive to lengthen the duration of an event day, make the experience about more than just winning and losing, more than about the two hours of the game. Teams and venues need to find a way to bring fans in two or three hours before an event and keep them there an hour after; not only does that maximise revenue potential but it also means that experience is less reliant on success or sporting entertainment. This in turn means that fans are more likely to return regardless of result, nobody wants to keep paying £35 a week for a team failing to perform, losing games and providing no value for money. But if you judge your ‘day out’ on the hospitality you received, the comfort, the entertainment you get away from the pitch then you are more inclined to return even after your team has just lost 4-0 at home.

Do you feel, generally speaking, the solutions you offer are fully utilised once deployed or do you see examples where its only the basic functionality being regularly employed?
Some do, some don’t, but that’s the nature of our solution; it can do so much, it can deliver a unique experience for every type of user in every type of environment that it would be very difficult for anybody to fully utilise the platform. That said, we do see the larger global corporate clients we work with really pushing the platform to its limits, we see wonderful adoption in the sports and arena space where our technology lights up the environment and that is something that makes us very proud. But we’re also proud to see a local council delivering public information, or a hotel delivering TV and VOD to guests in their rooms or a media team reviewing content through our desktop media portal; we can be all things to all people, but we don’t mind when people use just the bits they need; the rest of it is there when they need it.