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Building a great media player, the Hacker Way

We work with all manner of venues with screens across the hospitality sector – but at its core, Screach is a technology company. CEO and Co-Founder Paul Rawlings has been building and deploying great tech wizardry for a number of years, and ScreachTV is no different. When Screach as a company was focusing on creating phone-to-screen interactive games and campaigns (working with the likes of Cadbury, Swiftcover.com and Channel 4), the idea for ScreachTV came about as solution to a conundrum – how do we get the interactive content on to the screens in the first place? We need a device that connects to a television and handles our Screach content. When the answer came, we knew it was something worth pursuing, and what started as an idea early last year is now a fully-fledged income-generating entertainment system with over 150 venue customers in the UK, and growing fast. Here’s what it can do on a venue’s screens. And here’s some insight into the process of designing and building ScreachTV…

Hardware and Software

The ScreachTV software was written in-house by our team of talented developers based in the UK and Romania. The start-up mentality runs strong at Screach, and we practice Facebook’s The Hacker Way – the accelerated-growth method of failing fast, and failing often. This allowed us the freedom to try lots of different paths, quickly, to get to the right one. We looked at all kinds of existing hardware, from £5000 digital signage machines, to the DIY-lover’s Raspberry Pi. In the end we chose a device which balanced performance with price and one we could tailor to our needs.

The ScreachTV application sits on an Android TV box, an Apple TV-esque player which receives content from the cloud and displays it on television screens. The Android device was perfect for our needs – a device which was low-cost, versatile, and (most importantly) developer friendly. For the Android device to do what we wanted, we adapted the existing OS for our own purpose, and had the device firmware completely re-vamped too. We’ve seen some discussion about the perks and pitfalls of using these Android boxes as digital signage players and our recommendation, from our own experience, is to not settle for the software and firmware which comes with it.  Make your product elegant and robust, by not only building a bespoke application on top, but by utilizing the dev-friendly features of the OS, making your player work the way you want it to.

Keeping costs low

As the box is low-cost, it means there was less resource and focus spent on worrying about a big shiny piece of hardware like most traditional digital signage solutions. Instead we could focus on the backend admin system, the player performance, and the ScreachTV content. It meant we were able to roll our product out quickly, and we were able to lower the barrier to market, by not having to pass expensive set up costs on to our venue customers. That instantly set ScreachTV apart from most other digital signage companies in the hospitality industry.

Constant improvement

ScreachTV is undergoing continual tweaks and modifications, and with the system we have built, every device can be upgraded to the latest version remotely – once we have approved a new version of the application, we can roll it out across the network at the touch of a button. Not only that, we have buried a lot of clever features into the software, such as the ability to view and control a device from anywhere in the world in real-time, live data on plays of content, and logs which allow us to monitor the performance of a device. We pass a lot of these features on to our customers, to make sure they get the most out of our service.

Testing across the whole team

We have large test groups – every Screach employee has a device at home which is running adverts, live content and games 24 hours per day. At any one time, there are 13 boxes hooked up to 13 monitors in the Screach office to test content and software against – this has the added benefit that every person in the office, from sales to design, can understand the system and feed back ideas on the product. Even when some of our developers work remotely, we work as a unified team on testing and improving ScreachTV.

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 If you build software and deploy it on existing hardware, we’d love to hear what problems you’ve encountered and what solutions you’ve come up with on your journey to market.

 

We’re in the 250…

ACCELERATE 250

It’s going to be an interesting week next week for the folks at Screach.

In seven days time, we’ll be travelling down to Liverpool to attend Accelerate 2013, a festival devoted to some of the fastest-growing businesses in the UK.

Screach is one of 250 growing businesses that have been hand-picked to attend the event, which has been championed by Sir Terry Leahy and Lord Young. The Accelerate 250 brings together businesses making a splash in fields ranging from technology to finance, food and fashion.

Speakers include Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane Fox and Tech City UK CEO Joanna Shields.

Former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy said: “It’s our belief that Britain’s prosperity in the 21 century global economy is going to be built on the success of high-potential, fast-growth businesses.”

On Tuesday, we’ll also be chatting to some of the UK’s best universities at the NUS Trade Conference and Exhibition at Birmingham’s NEC. We believe that universities could do excellent things with the ScreachTV platform, so we’re heading to the Midlands to show them all it can do.

If you’re popping down next week, wander over and say hi. We’ll be at stand 116 throughout the day…

Screach: A Part of Tech Britain

techbritain

A few months ago, we got a visit from Doug and Shaun from TechBritain.

For those of you that haven’t come across the project before, it’s the brainchild of two startup founders that decided to get a flavour of the bubbling tech communities springing up around the country.

Doug Ward and Shaun Gibson travelled up to Newcastle by Megabus to meet founders making a splash in Newcastle, a journey which took them to Screach’s offices in Hoults Yard.

In this video chat, Paul Rawlings and Sam Morton chat to Doug about Screach’s ambitions, working in America, the role of the government and the tech scene in the North East.

Screach on Tour: Report from the road

For the next couple of weeks, ScreachTV is going to be on the road.

We’re taking part in EmpowerLive, a series of seven roadshows organised by Enterprise Inns. The idea is to allow publicans across the country to talk to interesting suppliers, and find out the new and exciting products that could make their pub stand out from the crowd.

This week, we’ll be hitting Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol on Tuesday and Birmingham’s National Motorcycle Museum on Thursday. The roadshow arrives at Wembley Stadium on April 30 and in Bolton on May 2, before finishing up Exeter Rugby Club on May 9.

So far, Screach’s trusty van has wound its way to Donington Park and Elland Road, the home of Leeds United. We asked Screach’s Georgia Rakusen for a quick report…

Screach at Licensed Trade International

LTI2013

In the space of a couple of days, we’ve met a lot of people, hung out at a supercar bar, and made cocktails live on stage.

And there’s still a couple of hours to go.

Yesterday and today, the folk from Screach made the short hop to The Sage in Gateshead for Licensed Trade International, a trade show featuring some big names in leisure and hospitality.

Big news for ScreachTV

ScreachTV

It’s been a busy last few months, but we were pleased to be able to announce this week that we’ve raised $2.5m to really push ScreachTV in the UK and beyond.

As reported in The Next Web, Sixteen:Nine and others, we’ve got funding from Northstar Ventures, Hotspur Capital Partners and other strategic investors to accelerate the rollout of ScreachTV across pubs and bars around the country. We’ll also be keeping an eye on other markets too.

Screach in LA: A Hell of a Trip

Los Angeles in February

Guess we can tick this off the startup “bucket list”.

It’s Monday morning in LA, and Screach CEO Paul Rawlings is sitting about 20 feet away from music man and tech investor Will.I.Am, who’s being interviewed on future technology by Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales.

In a little while, he’ll be pitching his own digital innovation to a crowd which includes international entertainment bosses, investors, and hotly-tipped startup talent.

Paul Rawlings is a lucky ********

Picture by Todd Jones Photography, used under Creative Commons

Picture by Todd Jones Photography, used under Creative Commons

We’ve all grown to love the creative weather here in the North East of England.

It’s exciting to wake up asking yourself questions, such as: “Does this dress look good drenched in rainwater?”, “Will I need to wear a crash helmet in case a random sky-splodge of snow slops down on my head while I’m out getting lunch?” and “How the hell do those people manage to go out on the Bigg Market wearing that little?”.

But we’ve got to admit a slight twinge of jealousy when we glance over to our CEO Paul Rawlings’ desk this week.

Paul jetted off to California at the weekend to spend quality time at Innovation Forum Los Angeles. It’s a two-day event co-hosted by the Founders Forum, in association with UK Trade & Investment and companies such as Universal Music Group.

A Screachy Christmas Story

It’s closing in on Christmas. You know what that means.

Tinsel. Presents. The same eight songs again and again. Festive drinks and nuclear hangovers. And, of course, that special moment when companies get all wistful and start reminiscing about all they’ve done in the last 12 months.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

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