Opera Telecom began by reselling non-geographic and premium-rate phone numbers but Gary Corbett, its founder, spotted that text messaging was becoming popular. He predicted it would boom, and that MMS – video and audio messages – would quickly follow.
In 2000, Corbett invested £750,000 in an SMS gateway – technology that would allow his fledgling company to send text messages across mobile operators’ networks.
GMTV also spotted the potential. In 2001 the television company commissioned Opera Telecom to run a week-long trial that encouraged viewers to send in premium-rate text-message dedications and included a competition. More than 170,000 people responded and GMTV had proof that it had found a valuable new revenue stream. It was soon employing Opera Telecom to run all its mobile-phone promotions.
Another key customer is Northern & Shell, publisher of the Express newspapers, the Daily and Sunday Star and OK! magazine. Opera Telecom handles the company’s premium-rate telephone lines and mobile-phone promotions.
Other clients, both direct and through resellers, include Mersey Television, the BBC, ITV and Endemol, producer of Big Brother and Fame Academy.
Working with Opera Telecom, Endemol launched Britain’s first commercial MMS soap opera in September. It is called FanTESStic and is about a female DJ working in Ibiza. It has 80 comic strip-style episodes and runs over 16 weeks.
Another service enables subscribers to keep up to date with Emmerdale, Eastenders and Coronation Street by receiving the storyline as a text message on their mobile phones. Opera Telecom also delivers mobile content to Vodafone Live, Virgin Mobile and other network operators.
These contracts, and many others with media companies, resellers and white-label partners, have driven up sales 432% a year from £294,000 in 2000 to £44.2m in 2003.
‘Our model is really quite simple,’ says Corbett. ‘We offer zero-cost entry for our customers. We have the technology in place and offer a simple revenue-sharing contract.’
The Birmingham company is now aiming to repeat its British and Irish success abroad. This year it acquired Aria Mobile, which it originally set up as a joint venture with Diva Consulting, a Dublin company. Aria has developed a platform that gives Opera Telecom a strong foothold in the Latin American market. Opera Telecom is working with Grupo Azcel, a Mexican mobile-services company, to deliver similar services to Mexican broadcasters.
Opera Telecom has also moved into Spain and America and is planning to open an office in Australia in January.
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