The DAddy of Animation
In the ever-changing world of new technology Glasgow digital pioneer DA Group has learned to adapt to survive, writes COLIN CARDWELL
THERE is a luminescent glow from the PC monitors in the basement of Glasgow’s Lighthouse building – headquarters of DA Group – and a crackle of excitement as chief executive Mike Antliff darts from screen to screen.
The former architect seems happiest at the business end; earlier, chatting in the meeting room he’s clearly anxious to propel the conversation away from business models and share prices (important as these are) toward the troupe of mini-sized characters now populating multi-media and mobile phone screens across the globe.
The company describes itself as the smart face of digital communications. Delivering “a new breed of interactive services” on the internet, interactive TV and mobile phones. Antliff is clearly very excited about the Yomego brand and its cheeky little animated characters that are engaging the type of audience that messages, blogs and has a voracious appetite for each successive, sophisticated wave of technology. The brand provides things such as wallpaper, screensavers, character texts and alerts to mobile phone users.
For example, Yomego created the Aussie avatar which delivered updates and competitions to the PCs and mobiles of fans
of I’m a Celebrity ...Get Me Out Of Here. Elsewhere, online reporter Big Frank will shout the odds for you at Ladbrokes. An animated (if that’s not an inhererent contradiction) Geoff Boycott will delivery a commentary on the cricket in his characteristically taciturn Yorkshire drawl on Channel 5. And DA has teamed up with Two Way TV to create a platoon of irreverant animated personalised ‘avatars’, which can broadcast, play games and chat. Called Digital Identities, or Diddis. Surely only in Glasgow could you get away with making a business out of a Diddi. “I know,” says Antliff. “It’s great, isn’t it?”
What it definitely is not, though, is just one big game for all concerned. This is serious business for an AIMquoted company that aims to be among the best in the world but still has several question marks over it. Revenues have gone down then up, so have share prices. Restructuring has been implemented and Antliff admits that the past three years have been a bit of a roller-coaster though he believes the company is now on the right shape to take on the ever morphing world of new media.
“It was time worth spending and it enabled us to differentiate ourselves,” he says. “And a lot of that time was reaching an understanding of the mobile industry; not just the providers but the handsets and technology.”
Looking back, Antliff recalls a time when the market value of the company was lower than its net asset value.
This year began strongly and in August, with shares on the up, Antliff said said the company was “in talks with a variety of entertainment and media companies and the pipeline in this area is looking very encouraging”.
He then added: “Based on this and the momentum achieved so far this year, we believe we are currently on track to deliver a successful outcome for the year.”
Last month he said that, with the launch of four new platforms, the quarter’s business had equalled last year’s turnover and the business was on course to meet brokers’ projections.
Among recent successes, DA has agreed a deal to provide a computer generated figure to appear on the website of the television talent show The X Factor. Under an agreement with FremantleMedia Licensing Worldwide, the licensor of The X Factor brand, DA Group created a 3D character called Dino to report on the ITV1 programme.
DA was, remember, the company that brought us Ananova, the aquamarine-haired virtual newsreader now owned by Orange, plus the first virtual pop star, Tmmy. In February 2003 it merged with Black ID and emerged under the
“a touch more fun and authenticity”. Antliff, not a professional IT geek, is unashamedly fascinated by the crowd of characters that range from the surly, pouting Chav Girl to Big Frank (attired, John Motson-like in sheepskin jacket) and DJ, a curious combination of Oor Wullie and Bono.
“When we had created the technology behind Ananova we had something of real value,” says Antliff. “We had sector specific solutions – and media and entertainment technology was going to drive it. In our pitch to media companies we can help them engage more effectively in their communities through interactive applications; user generated content; community based solutions – and help them generate new revenue streams through advertising without alienating the audience that is their core business.”
And that is as good an argument as any for the mainstream publishers’ and broadcasters’ race into digital technology, website, blogs – and anything else that will replace declining revenues in traditional areas. “In the 1970s you could, as an advertiser, expect to tap into an audience of 20m people,” Antliff points out. With fragmentation of the whole media arena, that clearly isn’t the simple option now. “We have to help our clients retain and attract new customers and get some of that DA Group banner as an intelligent communications provider. It’s a strange hinterland between reality and the polished, assured, on-screen personalities who have increasingly become, well, personalities.
Antliff’s mission is to make the connections. The company is, he says, working at the cusp of the real world and the digital world. DA Group comprises around 30 people knocking creative sparks off each other in John Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic Glasgow building.
Though firmly in the commercial as well as the creative vanguard, there must be one suspects, a fair dose of laughter amid the throes of the serious business of developing and growing a competitive company, with the likes of Horny Little Devil and Dominatrix keeping them company. Or more recently, the Diddis, 3-D animated characters that can jump, dance, walk, talk or sing.
Users can, with a few clicks, also create a personal caricature, and add a recording for advertising revenue back.” With this in mind, the company – having invested in developing a remarkable portfolio of products – is concentrating on commercialising them. “We’ve built in user-generated content,” Antliff explains. “Beside the animation technology we have built in multimedia capability plus secure payment gateways for downloads, subsciptions and so on.” The company’s primary focus, he says, is broadcasters, TV production companies, betting and sports organisations. These companies include MTV (with its rather beguiling Manga-esque avatars on MTV-Flux), Channel 5, and Endemol, one of the UK’s largest producers of entertainment formats. The Yomego brand has also taken taken DA Group into the Chinese and Taiwanese markets for the first time and helped it forge agreements with Spanish and Turkish companies earlier this year. Like a proud father, and back in demonstration mode, Antliff clicks a mouse to move a mouth, adjust a hairstyle and add a moustache to a little Digital Identity. The rapidly changing face of DA Group is serious fun.
Mike Antliff in character in Glasgow
Switched on: Mike Antliff sees a bright digital future for avatars like Chris Kamara (left) and Geoff Boycott (right)