Tampere-based Sofia Digital has taken a great leap forward in the Asian market. Its latest client is Singapore’s Mediacorp, which will receive interactive television solutions based on visions created about twenty years ago.
In the late 1990s, Finland was waiting for the introduction of digital television and contemplating the opportunities it would provide to companies and the services offered to viewers. The matter was studied by the Future TV project, a joint effort between three universities, Tekes and media companies. In those days, viewers studied the TV listings in newspapers and magazines in advance and then turned on their TV sets at the right time or set their VCRs to record the programmes.
“Technology has only now started to deliver on the expectations placed twenty years ago, so we are now creating services that we studied in the research project back in the day,” says Ari Pöyhtäri, CEO of Sofia Digital.
Pöyhtäri was involved in the Future TV project as a researcher, and the idea of establishing Sofia Digital as a developer of digital services also came about during the project. The company has been involved in creating the hybrid TV programme guide, Nelonen’s Ruutu application and Yle Areena, which are now taken for granted by a number of Finnish viewers.
“Online services are becoming increasingly popular, and Sofia Digital is leading the way in this development. Of course, the variety of devices used for viewing is increasing, but people will want to watch the best programmes on a big screen also in the future,” Pöyhtäri says.
Mediacorp is a large, comprehensive Singaporean media company whose key fields of operation are television, radio and interactive media. This summer, the company’s Toggle platform has introduced the Toggle Red Button service, developed in co-operation with Sofia Digital, which opens up myriads of new viewing opportunities at the press of a red button on the remote.
The solution is based on the HbbTV standard, Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV, which seamlessly integrates watching the broadcast and using online content. Viewers can concentrate on programmes that they like without needing to think whether the content is broadcast or delivered through broadband.
“For example, if viewers turn on their TV sets in the midst of an interesting programme, they can start watching it from the beginning or easily see the earlier episodes of a series. Through the Toggle programme guide, they can also watch past programmes,” Pöyhtäri says.
“The service offers approximately 12,000 different programmes, and some of them have been produced exclusively for the Toggle brand by Mediacorp, meaning that you can’t even see them anywhere else,” says Director Jukka Eklund.
The Toggle Red Button service is one of Sofia Digital’s largest projects so far, and its development and maintenance will continue. The company’s foothold in the Southeast Asian market seems firm, since it has already entered the Malesian market and is currently having negotiations in other countries in the area.
What is particularly delightful in the Mediacorp deal from Sofia Digital’s perspective is the fact that the client is a large corporation used to making its acquisitions from much bigger companies.
“We have been profiled as a global leader in the HbbTV standard. There are not many companies that could deliver ready-made systems like ours,” Eklund says.
“Mediacorp became convinced about our expertise thanks to our European references, since our HbbTV products are already in production use in Finland as well as Estonia, Hungary and Turkey, and we have received good feedback on them,” Pöyhtäri continues.
The HbbTV standard is the third chance for Sofia Digital. Over the company’s years of operation, the two earlier digital TV standards (MHP and DVB-H) have brought about enthusiasm, kept the company busy and supported its business until making space for new ideas.
“We are now very well set for the new coming of interactive television. It could be said that we are now a startup for the third time,” Pöyhtäri says, laughing.
Sofia Digital has not had to rely on the changing standards alone – the company also carries out terminal testing based on which the Antenna Ready HD and Cable Ready HD labels are granted for set-top boxes, for example. These labels indicate that the device works on the Finnish networks. In addition, the company offers the SOMESCREEN service for any type of event screens, and is prepared to offer a wide variety of smart TV applications.
“Our special expertise in interactive television allows us to offer many kinds of products and services,” Eklund says.
Sofia Digital is growing. In the last four years, its turnover has increased from approx. €700,000 to more than €1.6 million. The company employs around twenty people, and although it is not in a huge hurry to recruit new employees, it keeps a close eye on news about specialists becoming available in the Tampere region.