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Greg Ballard, GLU Mobile

Emerging from an enormously successful round of funding with a fresh name and focused strategy for the future, Glu Mobile (formerly Sorrent and Macrospace) are making serious headway in their ambition to become the market leader for mobile games and content.

With over 100 applications and a string of licenses from Atari, Fox Sports, Nickelodeon, PopCap Games and Twentieth Century Fox amongst others, the Santa Mateo-based firm is expanding globally at a frantic pace.

Part of the recent round of funding involved a new partnership with media giants Time Warner, who are making tentative steps towards a major involvement in the burgeoning mobile market. Greg Ballard, president and CEO of Glu Mobile sat down with Rob Fahey to discuss the implications of this new deal, the recent changes to the company structure and what the future holds for Glu mobile.

MobileIndustry It's been a pretty exciting time for Glu as you've just finished this round of funding with a rather large name attached - can you tell us a little bit about that?
Greg Ballard

Well as you can imagine, these things take a while to put together when you're dealing with a company that's as thorough and as deep as Time Warner is. So it's been in the works for a while, but I think it's a reflection on their interest in this entire mobile area - mobile content in particular, and specifically the games business.

We happened to be in the right place at the right time in conversations with them and I think it reflects as well that we've done a good job with some of their brands. For example, we represent in the marketplace the Cartoon Network brand and Adult Swim. So I think it was a bunch of things that came together at the right time and the right place and we're happy to have them as a partner.

MobileIndustry When you say partner, Time Warner have given the impression that this is purely an investment deal; they want to learn about this market and they see you as a great vehicle to enable them to do that. Will this change your day to day business at all?
Greg Ballard

No, I don't think it's going to change our day to day business. It's going to add a potential treasure trove, if you will, of potential licenses. While there's no guarantee under any circumstances that we are going to get a particular license with a particular brand within Time Warner, it has opened up a lot of doors to us that might not otherwise have been open.

It also gives us a fair amount of credibility when we're in that door, so that talking to the brand holder, they can see that we're not some fly-by-night company that doesn't know what they're talking about. So, in the extent that it has opened those doors for us and it does in fact yield some brands, I think it does have more than an investment impact - for both companies.

MobileIndustry Is this going to have any impact on your ability to work with Time Warner's competitors?
Greg Ballard

I don't think so. We were pretty careful in structuring this deal so that we didn't violate the privacy of any of our partners including and in particular Fox. If there are ever competitors that we're dealing with that have information which shouldn't be seen by Time Warner, we have ways of dealing with that as ever company does in such situations.

If you look at the single biggest media company that we deal with other than Time Warner, it's Fox. But it's the Fox sports division, and there isn't an analogous division within Time Warner. The Fox film division is again a different part of the organisation at Time Warner than we're probably going to be involved with anyway.

Warner Brothers has its own mobile effort underway and probably doesn't need Glu's efforts in order to be happy. So the two biggest chunks of our relationship with Fox, in many ways are completely non-competitive with Time Warner.

MobileIndustry The Time Warner deal is part of a wider round of funding -what the overall result from the rest of that funding round?
Greg Ballard

I think it was in May or June that we announced that the first of the series D financing was closed at $20 Million. That was led by a venture firm out here called Granite Global. The secondary funding - the Time Warner deal and some smaller funding was in addition to that. So the total round of series D funding was $27.7 Million.

MobileIndustry Andrew Heller has joined your board as a result of the Time Warner investment. He runs GameTap at Turner Private Networks - is that something we should read anything into? Is there going to be an extension of your existing deal with Turner?
Greg Ballard

That's not exactly coincidental, but it's not necessarily linked. It's not coincidental in the sense that within Time Warner, Andy has developed a reputation as being the person who is interested in this whole area and has developed some expertise as a result of that.

He established himself as the game expert within the Time Warner group, so we had a lot of negotiation about the type of person we wanted to join the board, because we wanted a senior media person. Andy was almost a natural choice, in part because Cartoon Network comes under his distribution realm so he knows about us.

Because GameTap is also in that realm he has some general expertise in the gaming area. There's no suggested link with GameTap at all though.

MobileIndustry You do have an existing deal with Turner for the Cartoon Network, so we assume Andrew will also be overseeing that?
Greg Ballard

Exactly, yes. It's all still within his realm of distribution so he'll continue to oversee things in terms of Cartoon Network stuff.

MobileIndustry Time Warner have talked about this being a learning investment and a chance for them to watch this market develop. It sounds like they have much bigger ambitions for the future. Do you have any insight into those plans? Do you think that they're going to be looking at acquisitions in the market perhaps?
Greg Ballard

I think they definitely have to be looking at that. It would be surprising if they took an investment in the company and then had no further interest in the area. On the other hand, they may study the area and find that it's not a strategic fit for them.

One of the things that speaks loudly of their thoughtfulness in this whole area is that rather than just jumping in and starting on an acquisitions spree, they are in fact taking their time through us, and I assume continuing to study this whole area in other ways so that when they do come to making the decision as to what to do, they're going to have more information than someone who just comes into it cold.

MobileIndustry Looking beyond that deal, can you give us a little bit of an overview on what's been happening with Glu outside of this deal over the last couple of months? Obviously the name change is a fairly recent event and there seems to be a lot of expansion for the company on a global basis.
Greg Ballard

There really has been expansion and some of it may have been below the radar and not completely obvious, but we are growing globally - not only in Europe and in the US, but also in Asia and Latin America.

Our stated purpose a year and half ago when we started on this course was to become the leading global provider of games and other content for phones. At least in an infrastructure sense, we're well on our way to doing that. We have some other pieces we need to add and we're working on adding those, but we've been making a lot of progress.

We've also hired an extraordinary new group of people into the company. We've hired Joe Polleto for example, who's going to be our head of worldwide publishing. He was running a $1.5 billion business at MSN before he joined us and he's the sort of guy you can build a business around. Jim Healey Who's our CIO did a similar task for Electronic Arts and for other companies, so we continue to add staff to the management team who truly are extraordinary performers and I think we'll have a lot of benefits further down the line.

MobileIndustry Where is your biggest expansion market at the moment? Where is it that you're seeing your fastest growth worldwide?
Greg Ballard

Well, I think the United States continues to be the fastest growing market, but it is conceivable that if you asked me that question in another quarter I would say Asia. We're starting to get a fair amount of traction down there, in various markets, and we're seeing that although the numbers aren't nearly as big as we have in the US or in Europe, the growth rate is higher right now for us because we're gaining a share against other people.

MobileIndustry What are the big exciting things that are happening for Glu over the next few months, particularly in the run up to Christmas?
Greg Ballard

I think everyone in the industry is focused right now on the third and fourth quarter, just making sure we get all our titles out. Our two biggest titles for the back end of the year, other than the ones we've already introduced like Astro-pop and Zuma, are going to be the new Driver: Vegas that we've announced and Getting Up by Marc Ecko.

These are two enormously innovative titles for the industry and we think they have the potential to be runaway hits on a global basis, so we're very focused just on the day to day implementation of those programs.

MobileIndustry You're pushing those titles in the fourth quarter - is that the most important time for the mobile market? Or do you find less of a seasonal focus than we might see in the traditional games industry?
Greg Ballard

I think it's less than the traditional gaming industry, but it's not unnoticeable. In the games business, it's such a huge deal that it almost sucks up all the purchases that we would have in the second and third quarter. Here, we still have a good second and third quarter; it's just that the fourth quarter is noticeably higher.

So is the first quarter by the way, once people have got their phones for Christmas. We saw last year a very strong January, February and March. So it's similar in that it does have that seasonality but it's not nearly as steep, I don't think.

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