This company has designed one of Britain’s most successful websites – the one used by Channel 4 for its reality television show, Big Brother. Over the summer, when the public wanted to know if Paul and Helen would sleep together on screen, the site reported 745m hits in 10 weeks. Rob Love and Richard Daws founded the company in 1990 while still students. They started out making sports documentaries for ITV, but later teamed up with Videotron to produce interactive television for the 1994 football World Cup. They became one of the first people to produce the kind of service now offered by Sky Sports Interactive, which allows viewers to pick which camera they want during a football match and follow a player at will. ‘We were very lucky to be involved in interactive media so early,’ says Love. ‘It meant we built up enormous experience.’ Victoria Real boasts that it has produced more than 1,800 hours of interactive television, more than any other independent production company in Britain. The firm’s sales have grown 183% a year from £293,000 in 1997 to £6.7m in 2000, when it had 80 staff. It now builds websites for the likes of the BBC, Norwich Union and Uefa and has also helped develop an MSc course in interactive television for Brighton University, which it uses as a source of potential recruits. Unlike many dotcoms, Victoria Real resisted the temptation to float on the stock market. Instead, it brought in the Dutch entertainment company Endemol, part of the Telefonica group, which took a 50% stake in the firm in April 2000. At the time, people questioned the wisdom of the company’s strategy. Now they are unlikely to. The company began when four students at Leeds Polytechnic started organising and televising student sports events. Since then Love and Daws have driven it to success, often by being in the right place at the right time. The contract to build the first Big Brother website last year was not the company’s biggest, but the popularity of the programme turned it into the best known and brought a lot of publicity. Over the 64 days of the first Big Brother show, Victoria Real streamed 26m live video feeds through the website, allowing fans to watch the housemates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Over the summer of last year, a public that was fascinated by the antics of Nasty Nick and his housemates made 300 hits on its internet pages. Such success catapulted Victoria Real into the premier league at a time when the internet bubble had just burst.
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