We have visited the Yerba Buena VR’s office in Madrid to interview their CEO, Héctor Prieto. The office is set in central Madrid, Gran Vía, in a co-working space hosted by Telefónica and its brand Wayra.
YBVR is the winner of the WFS 2018 StartCup, a competition for the sport-tech companies around the globe.
Héctor, what could you tell us about the company? Imagine that you are trying to explain Yerba Buena VR and its history to a person that has never heard about it in their entire life.
This is a company created by four video lovers. Constantino and I started working together a long time ago. We built the ONO platform in Spain and created an IP-based television company, which Ericsson loved and bought. They asked me to go to the US, where I met really interesting people, which would later become my partners in YBVR.
The idea came up during those long nights where we stayed up working for Ericsson. We saw that VR [virtual reality] was getting the attention of many companies. For instance, Facebook invested 2 billion dollars in Oculus; Disney also invested 65 million dollars in virtual reality. We looked at each other and realised that there was something missing in the market. People were investing in technology, but nobody was looking at how to market it or deliver it in an efficient way.
How did you find a way to get into the market? What was the solution you brought to the table? After all, VR is a relatively new market in which new ideas are probably welcome.
We had to think out of the box. The problem we saw was that VR requires really heavy high-definition images being streamed at a very fast speed. The streaming VR platforms had to lose most of the quality in order to deliver a good service. We decided to concentrate all the quality, 8K-12K, in the spot where the person using the headset was facing, while losing quality in those areas that are not being seen by the user. This idea worked amazingly and we patented it.
That’s the way we reached 4 times the quality with half of the Internet use.
Did YBVR start as a company focused on the world of sport? I understand that you have been working with Mutua Madrileña tournament and the Australian Open. How did you decide to dive into the world of tennis?
One of us, Constantino, was a semi-professional tennis player, so he knew the business. We started to work with the Spanish Tennis Federation, afterwards we did the Davis Cup in Marbella, entered the Madrid Mutua… at the Mutua Madrileña tournament we had a stand where people could watch Rafa Nadal playing live with the VR headset. More than 2500 people saw it, with around 75% of them being teenagers and young adults. That was a success since the director of the tournament brought us because he wanted to organise a technological and youth-driven tournament.
Such experience showed us that this tool is great to bring the young people closer to the sport. In the USA for example, tennis is a sport watched by people in their sixties…. our tool could attract young people back again to tennis.
YBVR was the winner at the World Football Summit 2018 StartCup by GSIC. How was your experience in this event? Did it help you move your company towards your objectives?
It did wonders for us. It’s important for you to know that we, as a company, won’t serve the audience; we serve other companies like LaLiga, Fox Sports or the Australian Open.
That’s why the WFS StartCup worked so well for us, a lot of interesting things came out of it. The jury, which was composed of 18 people, was formed by around 80% of potential clients of ours. One of them was an executive from LaLiga and she approached us to see if we could do something together. We are now in very advanced conversations with LaLiga thanks to our participation in the summit. I encourage all startups in the sports world to sign up for this event.
How is the company moving forward? What are your aims for the next few years? You are now establishing yourselves in the world of sports. Will you keep growing your presence there or try new markets?
We’re really happy because the thing is going great. We’re based in Silicon Valley, but our technology is made in Spain. The partners are all Spaniards, except for Víctor, a Mexican. We have investment from different kinds of Venture capital and Telefónica just joined as well in the investment. HTC is also working with us in San Francisco. We have raised more than 3 million USD in investment and we are growing the project, with 12 clients, mostly from the sports industry.
Our biggest client is the Australian Open, and we expect to see them increase the value of their sports rights package and bring it up by 10% in three years thanks to our product.
Why is the Australian Open such a great ally? What made you go to that tournament in particular? After all, you’re based in California, and other tournaments in Spain or USA would seem to make more sense.
We started working with tennis, not just because of Constantino, but because we knew that the Australian Open has always been open to the application of new technologies. They are the ones that are always looking for a way to improve and make their tournament more broadcasting-friendly. They were the first ones to use the spider cam, the net cam, etc. They have always been innovative.
But now, as you mentioned, you have started to negotiate with LaLiga. Is there a big difference between the way that football and other sports approach technology? We’ve witnessed how, for many years, football has been more of a traditional sport that didn’t adopt new technologies. Do you consider that this is changing?
We think that our technology is best applied in sports. We tried different fields like tourism but we believe that our technology shines in a live broadcasted event. The sports industry has changed a lot and it is now more open than ever for new technologies.
It’s true that football is more of a traditional sport, but that’s also beginning to change, and LaLiga is a great example of that. It is amazing to see the way they are doing a push in technology and internationalisation over the past four years.
I realised how big the brand is when I moved abroad. Wherever you go, LaLiga is a well-known entity and Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are known in each and every corner of the world.
The efforts made in the internationalisation and the technology application of the tournament is amazing. Also, a lot of Spanish companies are working to make it a better and more modern competition. We will see amazing results soon.
I had the opportunity to try your technology in the VR headset and I quickly understood why you won the WFS StartCup by GSIC. It is an amazing way to experience sports and all these kind of events. How is this going to be marketed? How much could it cost for the average user to have this experience in their living room?
I think that the sports audience will be enjoying this technology really son. That’s what we’re working on. It is not as expensive as most people think. The typical VR headsets cost 180 USD. In Japan they are selling a lot of these because houses are smaller and there is not as much space to put a TV. But, even if the technology is as good as it is, there’s still need for agents like Facebook to push the VR revolution forward and use technology like 5G to keep advancing. I think that Movistar could release a Premium service with VR headsets; that’s something that could happen really soon.
People will start to use the VR technology when there’s content behind it. In the NBA, for instance, there already is. We are now talking with FIBA and want to reach the world cup in China.
As a user, what would I need? There are still a lot of unknown things about the use of this type of technology. But let’s say that Movistar does release this premium service, what kind of hardware would I need to enjoy it as a user?
That’s the great thing about our technology. You don’t need anything but the headset and an Internet connection. The day that a service is launched, you just need the headsets and you will enjoy it.
It will seem as though you are at the World Cup without having to take a plane. It’s important to understand that we are creating a new medium that is not the TV. We are trying to replicate the idea of being at a sports event without actually having to be there. My partner always says that the day will come when you know you were at the Australian Open, but you won’t be sure if it was via VR or if you were actually there.
I know that this is a difficult question to ask, but when do you believe that this will happen? VR technology has moved a long way in the past few years and it is now more than ready for the general use. When will the average user enjoy this new technology?
The project we are thinking about is the 2020 Olympics. We want to make it available for everybody in that time. We have Japanese capital working with us and we think it is a possible objective. I don’t think that 100% of the audience will have this technology in one year and a half, but I do believe that the 2020 Olympics will be watched with our VR streaming technology.