Special delivery: DCDC network promises to revolutionize cinema content distribution


The Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition (“DCDC”) was founded by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark and AMC Theatres to benefit the entire entertainment industry by enabling the digital delivery of movies and other forms of entertainment product to North American theatres in a highly efficient, cost-effective manner.

These five partners must be given a lot of credit for coming together as they have to create the DCDC Network. The Hollywood studios and the exhibition community have not always seen eye-to-eye on the key issues facing the entertainment industry. However, in this case the two studios and three exhibitor partners were able to successfully engage with one another in the incredibly complex work of envisioning what the network should look like; designing the network to accommodate both technological and business constraints; and creating an economic model that would be both realistic to achieve and compelling to potential content provider and exhibitor customers.

The resulting network is a state-of-the-art, cost-effective and efficient digital delivery system that is based on a platform malleable enough to accommodate multiple kinds of input (whether satellite, high-speed terrestrial, hard disc drives or flash drives) and capable of delivering theatrical motion pictures, live streaming and other forms of alternative content, as well as pre-shows and advertising to theatres. This platform is capable of being upgraded on the fly, and has many built-in redundancies, both of which will allow it to have great longevity and economic operation in the field. The platform, and the way that it is operated, will have a lasting positive effect on the entire entertainment ecosystem.

To help build and operate our platform, DCDC engaged in a rigorous and far-reaching RFP process, which led to our choosing the Deluxe-EchoStar partnership as our primary service provider, Hughes Network Systems as our installation and maintenance team, and Kencast as our primary technology provider. This combination of talents, abilities and products has been a terrific choice for us thus far, as we have substantially rolled out our initial footprint and now look forward to welcoming additional customers into the DCDC family.

All of our initial customers, which include The Walt Disney Company, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate and Open Road Films along with Warner Bros. and Universal on the content provider side, and Southern Theatres and National Amusements with Regal, Cinemark and AMC on the exhibition side, have eagerly embraced using the DCDC Network. The popularity of DCDC stems from our dedication to providing a fair and uniform pricing structure to all of our customers, with each content provider and exhibitor that uses the service seeing significantly reduced costs in delivering content to theatres. Those prices are likely to continue to fall from where they are today as more and more content providers and exhibitors become customers of the platform. We went “live” as of last Oct. 1 and became responsible for delivering our customers’ content to the entire DCDC footprint (which at that time was about 1,200 theatre sites and now numbers in excess of 1,300). Throughout October, November and December of last year, we successfully delivered 38 theatrical features over the network, far more than originally forecast. So far, at least, our stated mission of “turning the traditional content distribution model on its head” has been seen as a good thing for all involved. More on this later.

So, how does it work?
One can think of our network as a “smart pipe” made up of sophisticated electronics, software and hardware, including satellites, high-speed terrestrial links, with hard drives used as backup. Our exhibitor customers’ locations are provided with a DCDC-owned-and-operated satellite dish (aimed at two separate satellites), V-Sat backchannel equipment, cabling, and a catch server for receiving content. A Network Operations Center (NOC), located in Salt Lake City, monitors all deliveries of content to ensure on-time delivery. Both DCDC’s NOC and its uplink at the EchoStar facility in Gilbert, Arizona, receive theatrical product by high-speed fiber-optic cable from DCDC’s ingest point located at a Deluxe facility in Burbank, California, where it will have been checked by expert quality-control personnel before being sent over the fiber links. The content is then checked again at the uplink before being transmitted over DCDC’s full-time transponder on EchoStar’s state-of-the-art satellite, AMC15, which resides in geosynchronous orbit above the center of the United States.

When the theatrical content is received by the individual theatre locations across North America, and captured by our proprietary catch server, it is checked/QC’d again prior to being “published” after that theatre location has been booked to play the content by the content provider/distributor involved. Once published, the content is typically pulled over to the TMS/LMS of the site in question, where management of the content for playback takes place on one or more auditorium screens.

The content is already there (everywhere in the satellite-enabled part of our network), waiting for the booking to occur and, when it does, delivery is almost instantaneous compared to traditional models which have centered on the delivery of a physical medium a day—or three—later.

Pre-shows, advertising and live streaming, as well as other forms of alternative content, can be ingested into the network remotely, winding up at our Gilbert uplink for transmittal over the satellite to theatre sites that have signed up to receive that content. There are multiple companies that are in these businesses, and the DCDC Network is capable of handling each of their offerings. Our catch server, for example, is capable of handling multiple live streams being delivered, then playing them back into multiple auditoriums simultaneously. I believe that we as an industry are just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished using the kind of network the DCDC Network represents. But that leads us to our next discussion.

So, what is the business model?
DCDC is founded on the following principles:
•    Running its network as an open platform;
•    Running its business finances as an open book to its customers;
•    Treating all of its customers with equal dignity;
•    Running its business using appropriate and equitable cost allocations to recover its costs of operations and the equity investments of its five partner companies;
•    Dedication to continuing to lower the costs of the service to its customers whenever possible.

This latter bullet point will over time have the effect of substantially lowering the total cost of delivery of all kinds of content to North America’s theatres for everyone.

To sum up, I believe that DCDC points the way toward a new, digitally catalyzed manner of conducting content distribution to theatres across all of North America. We are all going to find that we are only constrained by our own imaginations in how we as an industry will utilize the DCDC Network.

Randy Blotky is CEO of the Digital Content Distribution Coalition. He is a senior entertainment industry executive, attorney, physicist and a leader in the entertainment/technology space who previously served as DCDC’s principal consultant. Blotky will be part of a CinemaCon panel on DCDC and satellite delivery on Wednesday afternoon, March 26.