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Spectrum Visual Networks: Manny Teixeira, Frank van den Berg & Ronald Henry

Technological innovation and practical application means a world-first in digital media solutions

Juliet Pitman

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Manny Teixeira, Frank van den Berg & Ronald Henry of Spectrum Visial Networks

Manny Teixeira, Frank van den Berg and Ronald Henry are self-confessed techno-geeks and proud of it. With good reason.

Their passion for new technology, coupled with the desire to identify its practical applications in the local business market, meant that the three old school friends pioneered new territories in digital cinema technology.

Their company, Spectrum Visual Networks, was responsible for establishing the world’s first digital cinema advertising network on behalf of CineMark.

The overwhelming success of the pilot project led to the rollout of 61 digital cinemas countrywide and a host of awards, including first place in the Top Technology 100 in 2004.

With such a success, it’s perhaps not surprising that the company recorded a turnover of R15, 8 million at the close of the last financial year. This was achieved in just five short years, the first of which recorded a total loss. Teixeira, now MD of the company, remembers how it all began.

When tobacco advertising was banned in cinemas, few advertisers had enough money to produce the very expensive 35mm advertising material, leaving a big gap in the cinema income stream. The industry needed an alternative solution and Spectrum’s digital cinema advertising network provided it.

Though the pilot project was a resounding success, the company ran at a loss in its first year. However, the investment paid off with the awarding of a contract to roll out a further 30 screens nationwide. This presented its own challenges. “The biggest difficulty was how to finance the project,” says Teixeira.

With only a six-month track record of loss, banks refused to finance them. Undeterred, they drew on the relationship they had built with their primary supplier, who agreed to bankroll the project and give them the hardware they needed, against nine post-dated cheques.

“If it wasn’t for that supplier and that relationship, the entire thing would have fallen flat,” says Teixeira. That was five years ago and the rest is history. Some might argue that achieving once-off success in the right market conditions is easy, but that continuing to run a successful company is a different matter altogether, and they would be correct.

So what has Spectrum done right? The company is now made up of 25 people and Teixeira is quick to point out that its success today is owing to the creativity, passion and hard work of this group of people.

The company deliberately employs young graduates with no previous work experience and he believes this is one way to keep ideas fresh and relevant. “These are the people who are excited about technology and are using it,” he says.

The company’s key differentiator is also its ability to make that technology deliver real business value to clients. Teixeira explains that Spectrum has had to educate its clients about this aspect of technology, forcing them to look at the business reasons for having it.

Apart from mobilising digital media across a broad platform of applications, Spectrum’s services have been extended to include helping clients to plan and ultimately manage the content on the digital network they have invested in.

“This is why we think of our business as having two elements – we’re a service provider to clients, but we also develop our own technology to enable us to provide that service in the most cost-effective and efficient way,” he explains.

Changes in technology take place at lightning-fast speed but the Spectrum team remains at the cutting edge. With digital cinema still its primary area of focus, the company is capitalising on huge growth in the industry, as well as the increased demand for plasma screen technology solutions.

In addition, it is tapping the potential in video on demand (VOD) solutions, identifying a huge market in the hotel industry ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Spectrum’s solution will not only provide VOD systems for every room but internet access as well.

What really excites the trio at this point, however, is the enormous potential in IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) technology. “In the future consumers are going to have far greater choice over when, where and how they consume different types of media,” Teixeira says. “Spectrum Visual Networks wants to be at the forefront of that future.”

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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