SLOWLY but surely, the number of digital platforms for delivering television content is growing and the Winnipeg-based Ameba children's programming service is growing with it.
Last fall, Ameba launched its channel of commercial-free children's programming on the LG Smart TV platform.
This week, the Ameba service was added to the Google TV Internet-connected TV platform, which means Ameba's $3.99-a-month channel is now easily available for screening on TV sets in more than five million homes. (Ameba's commercial-free streaming video service is also available on any Internet platform viewable on iPads, iPhones, PCs and laptops.)
After only two days with its app on Google TV, Ameba increased its subscriber base by 1,200.
"There is huge demand for kids' programming," said Tony Havelka, founder and CEO of Ameba.
In addition to the Google TV box and the LG Smart TV platform, it can also be viewed on televisions via the Roku set-top box (makers of the original set-top boxes used exclusively for Netflix).
Ameba's content library contains more than 2,000 hours of educational, preschool, music and multi-language programming aimed at kids age two to 12. While you won't find SpongeBob SquarePants, Sesame Street or mainstream Disney programs, Ameba features content from award-winning producers, including titles like WordWorld, Bunny Bop, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, BusyTown Mysteries, Ruffus the Dog and Ruby Skye P.I.
Havelka has been making innovative technology at his Winnipeg shop for many years. He still owns and runs Tek Gear, a technology company that produces components for specialized head-mounted computer displays and is now the largest distributor of wearable computing products in the world.
He said the digital video distribution model is growing and delivery platforms are becoming more accessible.
"Business is pretty good," Havelka said. "We have been at it since 2007 and we have grown with the business. Every day we are more and more focused."
The company has six employees at its Market Avenue offices and Havelka chose to bypass expensive marketing. The private company does not disclose subscriber numbers.
"We scaled up with technology and invested heavily in back-end processing," he said. "The only way to make money at this is to keep overhead small."
That means grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing, rather than the juggernaut Netflix uses, which costs about $40 for every new subscriber.
Initially, Havelka built Ameba's own set-top box, which included a hard drive that stored selections downloaded from the library. But as bandwidth became cheaper, it was much more convenient to have the content streamed.
"At the beginning, we knew we would not get penetration without our own set-top box," he said. "We needed it to get in the game."
Now Ameba is so firmly "in the game," it's getting contacted by the likes of LG, which is integrating technology like Google TV into its newer smart TVs and wants the channel built into all of the smart TVs it ships. (Consumers still need to pay the $3.99 a month to activate the service.)
As for content, Ameba is adding more all the time.
Ameba pays content providers based on how often each show is viewed.
"We're paying out thousands of dollars per month to our producers, so there's more and more of them who are becoming champions of Ameba."