This article originally appeared in the January 30, 2009 issue of The National Business Review.
Not many New Zealanders or New Zealand businesses manage to make a big splash in Times Square, the heart of New York’s entertainment district. Particularly on New Year’s Eve, when the square is packed with boozy crowds waiting for the moment when an illuminated ball drops to indicate midnight.
This time there was a big Samsung-branded video screen under the ball that showed personalised messages and cellphone pictures sent in by celebrating New Yorkers in the hours leading up to midnight. Very few of them, however, would have known that their messages were being sent to Wellington to be scrutinised for suitability of content before being returned to the US for display, or that the software that was driving the screen was made by Wellington-based Eyemagnet.
Eyemagnet founder Paul Treacy started the business nearly five years ago, in response to a gap he saw in the market “come out of a mobile background,” he says. “I did some time in Telecom as a product manager, although I actually started off in an SMS company, selling applications to BellSouth, Telecom and others.”
“But Eyemagnet came about as a result of the proliferation of flat panel screens and the fact that it was clear their prices had to come down.” Meaning that they would be popping up everywhere and that people using them for advertising purposes would want to be able to control the content they display.
“Our whole premise is that people want to own their own television channels. If you’re a retailer, or whatever you’re in, you want to be able to display your own content.”
“In New Zealand Telecom is our primary customer — we run Telecom TV in all their retail stores — but we’ve won Ericsson innovation awards in Australasia and various business awards such as the Cable Car Challenge in Wellington. We’ve been quite successful with our technology here.”
“But it’s the US where we’ve had the most success, even though its given Eyemagnet a slightly split personality. In New Zealand we’re a technology business, but in the US we’re a content provider. We won a contract with The Athlete’s Foot, a global chain of sports footwear retailers based in Atlanta. We’re delivering and managing TAF TV to all their shops. We install our systems into their stores by region, starting with the Miami area and radiating out.”