You.i TV, an Ottawa software company that is helping TV broadcasters navigate the widespread disruption across their industry, has received $15-million in venture financing from U.S. private equity giant Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, which the fast-growing startup hopes will supercharge its growth.
"This funding is validation," said You.i chief executive Jason Flick, who has struggled to raise outside funding since launching the company six years ago. But You.i has been on a tear, at least doubling revenue every year and adding clients like shomi, Corus Entertainment Inc. and Sony.
In its fiscal year ending June 30, You.i quadrupled revenue to $10-million, tripled its staff size to 150 people, and still had to turn away business because demand exceeded capacity. The company expects revenue to double again this year, to $20-million. Kayne vice-president Leon Chen said his firm was drawn to You.i because "they've proven they have been able to sign customers and deliver successfully."
So what does You.i do that has the TV industry beating a path to its door? Broadcasters everywhere are grappling with a massive shift as consumers move increasingly from traditional TV to on-demand and online video options, preferring to tailor, stream and even binge what they watch. While much of that viewing still happens on televisions, broadcasting executives know the next generation of subscribers will prefer other options, particularly mobile devices.
As broadcasters struggle to operate in this more complex environment, You.i has emerged with one important piece of the puzzle. The company has built a software engine, or "origin app," similar to that used by video-game developers, meaning that applications built on top of the base app can be easily adapted from common computer code to suite a variety of platforms, including smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes or home computers.
Using the tool for multiple platforms translates into time and cost savings for broadcasters, who would otherwise build customized offerings for each medium, tapping multiple suppliers. "This is a massive paradigm change," Mr. Flick said. "We want to work with the companies that want to change the future of TV."
Using You.i tools, designers can easily build rich, feature-laden, viewer-friendly apps on top of the Ottawa firm's software engine.
Corus's TreehouseGO app, for example – which viewers can use to watch Treehouse shows on smartphones and tablets – features rubbery-looking buttons aimed to appeal to kids, such as a duck that swims along a show's elapsed time scale at the bottom and a bouncing ladybug that serves as the volume button. The broadcasters pay You.i licensing fees to use its origin app.
Scott Dyer, chief technology officer of Corus – which is set to roll out more You.i-based apps for its YTV, Disney and Nickelodeon channels – called You.i's technology its "secret sauce [and] competitive advantage."
"It allows Corus to seamlessly work across platforms and rapidly deploy new 'TV Everywhere' features and services, in a cost-effective way … We believe they are better positioned for wide adoption than any other company we've found," he said.
You.i hatched in 2009 as an offshoot of Mr. Flick's mobile software firm, Flick Software, established eight years earlier. The London, Ont.-born Mr. Flick, who came to Ottawa 25 years ago to study computer science at Carleton University and never left, said he was inspired by Apple's launch of the iPhone, which "changed how we interact with technology, how we relate to technology."
During its first three years, You.i, under the direction of chief technology officer Stuart Russell, a veteran video-game developer, helped other mass-market electronics makers, including Kobo and Canon, build iPhone-like user interfaces using its software.
Three years ago, the company shifted its business, anticipating massive demand from broadcasters to "app-ify" and tailor their offerings to different media. "Our vision was to drive great experiences on every screen," Mr. Flick said.
Despite picking up major broadcast customers and securing some funding from government agencies, including Business Development Bank of Canada, Mr. Flick struck out trying to woo venture capitalists to invest in his company.
"They said, 'That's a crazy idea, it doesn't make sense, no one has ever made money building tools,' " Mr. Flick said. Instead, he leaned on willing broadcast customers to provide up-front partial payments to finance You.i's growth.
Now, with Kayne behind the company, You.i is set to address a different challenge: scaling up to meet surging demand. The company is focused on bringing partners on board, Mr. Flick said, including outside developers who can license You.i's software-development tools to build apps for broadcasters.
"This partnership strategy is [being launched] so we don't have to say no any more," he said.
Mr. Chen said You.i is the type of company Kayne likes to back because its technology offers "real value propositions that solve real pain points for their customers. … A big issue with media and telecom companies is that they have a presence now [on multiple platforms] but it's kind of a mess with different back-end systems, different platforms and different development teams working on various products.
"It's incredibly expensive to update anything and make it consistent across every platform, every screen and every device," Mr. Chen said. "You.i is in a very interesting position where they can solve exactly that issue."