There’s no question that the digital media evolution is changing the way we entertain kids in some pretty fundamental ways. But it has also opened up new opportunities for streamlining business operations, particularly when it comes to delivering content. The back end of a distribution deal has traditionally been quite time-consuming and costly, with producers sending tapes by FedEx or DHL, grappling with customs issues remotely, and hoping against hope that their packages will arrive intact to their final destinations. But digital delivery systems make possible a tapeless back-end that could save a lot of time and money in the long term.
One company that’s been really proactive about targeting its digital media services to the kids entertainment industry is L.A.-based SmartJog, which partnered with Reed Midem in 2005 to modernize the screenings at MIP Jr. Before SmartJog stepped in, buyers used to check out tapes for the shows they were interested in, view them, and then check them all back in once they were through. It was bulky and time-consuming work, and tapes for hot shows were often unavailable for long stretches. SmartJog digitized the whole shebang, so now buyers sit down at a viewing station and simply call up the shows they want to watch with a click of the mouse. No muss, no fuss, and producers are also able to track viewing by broadcaster instantaneously.
Of course, SmartJog ensured through on-site marketing that it was credited as the harbinger of all this efficiency, and used the opportunity to score meetings with individual companies during MIPCOM. What its sales team was initially selling was space on its digital SmartScreening service, a secure network where distributors post their shows to be viewed all year long by broadcasters and home entertainment companies. The system can be used in one of two ways: distributors either push a file out to a select list of recipients, or they can simply fulfill broadcaster requests for files. Distributors pay only when content is delivered and on a sliding scale depending on file size.
This pricing structure was set up to be comparable to what it costs for normal tape duplication and shipping, so the main short-term benefits of SmartJog are security and time savings. Files are sent out across a closed satellite network (which sets the service apart from internet-based delivery systems), and it’s impossible for the transfer to affect the quality of the file. In fact, SmartJog guarantees file integrity.
The real cost savings of SmartJog’s services can really only be measured over time, and it’s still too soon for many clients to be seeing a bottom-line difference. But once a file is created, it can be sent again and again with no additional investment, which stands in stark contrast to the traditional fulfillment model that involves endlessly recreating tapes.
On the receiving end are broadcasters, home entertainment companies, vendors, IPTV platforms, dubbing houses, licensees and anyone else who has access to a SmartJog server, which costs around US$300 a month. Most major channels are on-board, just a few of which include YTV, TF1, RTL TV and Five, and a full list of clients is available on SmartJog’s website (www.smartjog.com). Eastern Europe is one territory that has bought in big-time in order to combat its countries’ notoriously difficult customs operations.
Now that so many servers are installed, director of sales Joe DiBianca says SmartJog’s goal is to upsell its existing distributor clients to use the network for delivering master files. Nelvana, which has put 40 half hours of its content up on SmartScreenings over the past two years, recently expanded its relationship with SmartJog in this way. Senior manager of distribution Neal Bilow says SmartDelivery is particularly useful for conducting business with smaller, foreign-language broadcasters because content can be sent directly and quickly to post houses for dubbing.
TV-Loonland is also a SmartScreenings client, and COO Olivier Dumont likes to use the service to screen shows for clients he meets with at industry events. But he’s not quite ready to sign up for additional services yet. He says only about 30% of his clients have servers installed, which isn’t a big enough base to justify the investment. But if SmartJog could find a way to allow non-subscribing broadcasters to access the system without compromising its security, he’d definitely reconsider.