Interview: Betfair TV CEO Simon Miller on online gambling and the future of internet-connected TVs

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Simon Miller, CEO Betfair TVFancy a quick flutter on the footie? Thanks to Betfair’s recent debut on the Yahoo! TV Widget engine, gamblers can place bets from the comfort of their armchair.

But what does this mean for the traditional high-street based bookie? Is it making it all too easy for addicts to engage their gambling vice? And, most importantly, who’s going to win the League?!

We had a quick chat with Betfair TV CEO Simon Miller to find out.

Betfair has become one of, if not the biggest betting exchange on the web. What do you attribute to its popularity?

We are by a country mile the biggest betting exchange in the world. It’s really down to the fact that we offer 20% better odds across the board compared to a traditional bookmaker. We take the risk out of bookmaking by acting as an exchange whereas a traditional bookmaker will take a view and a stance on each different betting market. Betfair customers bet against each other and choose their own odds. Betfair doesn’t take a view on who is going to win, we simply earn a commission from the Betfair customer who happens to win. I think it is that that has lead to our popularity.

And that customer to customer based betting service carries over to the new TV widget?

Yes, it’s built directly from the exchange API; we’re using the same odds, the same security, the same registration, the same payment and so on.

How does it differ from your web browser service?

There is one important difference and that is that the web is obviously a platform that allows for quite an intense relationship with the user. On the Betfair website you can both “back” and “lay” (meaning to either favour a team in a result, or feel that the opponent will either win or hold them to a tie – Ed.) , a reasonably complex process that works perfectly well on the website. But we think that television, as a causal entertainment experience, is very much a “back” only service. People are not coming on to use their television platform as a sophisticated trading system.

How long was spent testing and developing the user interface? Was the focus of the design to make it as simple as possible for the casual user?

Absolutely. We’ve paired everything right the way down to the absolute minimum. We spent five or six months learning the technology, building the system and to QA it through Yahoo! and manufacturers. For example, on the web there is about 40 different ways you can bet on any single football match; yellow cards, red cards, the number of corners etc. But adding that level of choice onto a television menu doesn’t make any sense. Instead we offer 4 different ways to bet on TV that cover the vast majority of the revenue. We think we’re offering the customers the things that they most want to bet on, and balancing that with an interface that makes it easy and quick to find that bet, particularly giving the constraints of being ten feet away and using a remote control.

Right now then it’s only football that is covered by the new service?

At the moment it is only football. In the next 6 months we plan to develop a multi-sport widget. And again, rather than offering all the thousands of events that Betfair online features, we will pair that down to about five different sports. We’ll also have a sixth slot for “specials” like X-Factor results for the final, and other tele-visual related events such as Strictly Come Dancing.

Do you expect the habits of TV gamblers to be much different from your web users?

I think it will be. I think that the television-betting mentality is far more casual, far more entertainment based. I imagine people will tune in, watch a match on a Sunday afternoon and make it a little more interesting by putting ten quid on it. We’ve set the maximum stake for now at £25, also offering a £2 bet, a £5 bet and a £10 bet, again the reason being our focus on casual customers. The more serious betters will stay on the web.

Betfair TV

What measures are in place to ensure user’s details are secured?

We use the same methods as on the web to register and pay, referring them to our website. Data entry for now on a remote control is not so good. We will have a registration and payment Widget in our road-map, but online the security in place is of a banking level, possibly higher. We hold masses of money and client funds so we need that level of security. Also in our business, ensuring that no-one under the age of 18 can access our service is absolutely crucial to our reputation, apart from just being the law. The television service raises an interesting question; “What about my kids? Can my kids get on there?” It’s an interesting point but there are measures in place. Not only is a username and password required, but if there has been no activity for 30 minutes, or you shutdown the application environment, that information has to be re-entered. Again, we’re trying to balance ease of use with a prudent approach to security. The living room, a communal area itself, offers a level of protection; your 14 year old would find it easier to get onto your laptop which you’ve accidentally left open with your betting account logged in and create mischief than do it in plain sight in the public space of the living room. However, a degree of individual responsibility is of course involved.

Some people will argue that the ease with which people can place bets through the TV service helps facilitate irresponsible gambling? How would you respond to that?

Firstly we will take the same attitude towards responsible gambling that we take on all platforms and take it very seriously. If we see patterns of behaviours which are seemingly problematic we have very well regimented processes in place. The fact that the vice is there whichever platform you choose to use means that all we are really facilitating is an easier and more convenient mechanism to bet on. We are taking a very prudent approach from a targeting perspective by restricting the stake levels to £25. Problem gambling is all about the moment when people lose control. I think we’ve got a lot of controls built into the very nature of the product to handle that, as well as the publicness of the living room which itself discourages problem gambling.

With online betting, poker and casinos so mainstream nowadays, do you see the internet and internet connected TV’s eventually killing off the traditional bookies?

No I don’t. I think that the traditional bookmaker has a place. There will be certain customers who will simply prefer that. We’ve become an important company in this space, employing a lot of people, developing amazing technology, providing what we think is a very good service. Clearly that has attracted a lot of customers. Internet connected televisions will simply be another platform. There will be some people who will say ” I don’t want to go to an internet site, I prefer to go to my bookmaker”, who will now perhaps say, “This television thing, that kind of fits with how my life works”. But do I think that the internet and internet connected televisions will be the final nail in the bookies coffin? No I don’t think so.

How do you see services like your own, and other Yahoo! widget services evolving in the future? What do you think the next step is?

Personally, we’ll start with football and build up to a multi-sport widget. We’ll also develop casino games. Our ambition is to have an appropriate subset of the full sweep of a gambling portfolio available on television. It’s not practical to have 250 different slot selections on a television, it’ll be a subset of that. Televisions have the advantage of being 42 inches, or 50 inches or so; whatever size screen it is, it’s usually the biggest and best quality screen in the house. The exciting thing is, if this platform is as successful as we think it might be, we can then bring real drama to the way that we present casino games. Putting the level of animation and video quality already seen online into a television widget will make it that much more of an invigorating experience.

To round things up, can you give Tech Digest’s readers any good tips? The Grand National or football perhaps?

I’ve never been asked that question before! I am the world’s worst better! You’re asking absolutely the wrong person. I happen to be a Newcastle fan so my recommendation would be to back Newcastle for the championship title!

Thanks very much for your time Simon.

It’s been a pleasure.

Check out Betfair’s online service here.

Gerald Lynch

6 comments

  • You had a good subject. Thank you for sharing the information you gathered. This is awesome and adorable.

  • I agree with usernamed. Betfair shouldn’t waste time, effort and money trying to bring in new customers via new-fangled channels like mobile phones or TV. I mean how many people have access to a TV? It can’t be more than a few billion worldwide.

  • Just what Betfair needs – another CEO of another off-shoot product that nobody cares about.

    Cut all the distractions and get on with selling your core product.

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