Round-the-world Jog: French service provider offers smart digital delivery

Features

If you think juggling some 110 different release versions of Avatar alone would set your distribution partners at Twentieth Century Fox reeling, think again (and check out the sidebar below). While moving cans, cartons and hard drives is still very much part of the theatrical distribution equation, much of the heavy lifting can now be done without actually lifting anything. Except an eyebrow, perhaps, at the wonder, speed and efficiency of it all.

With fully managed delivery via satellite, DSL and fiber-optics, Paris, France-headquartered SmartJog offers “reduced transportation costs” and “simplified logistics” that avoid use of said cans and other physical media such as drives, DVDs and USB keys. “SmartJog facilitates the secure storage, digital asset management and digital delivery of trailers and feature films,” according to the company’s d-cinema offer. In essence, DCPs (Digital Cinema Packages) “are sent from post houses and distributors to theatres where SmartJog’s library server receives and stores all digital-cinema content.”

In June, SmartJog so delivered the 100th film to theatres in its pan-European network. The A-Team landing at 45 locations in France, later on followed by three more theatres in Belgium and Spain, marked Fox’s sixth title with the provider. At the same time, SmartJog itself recorded 2,630 hours of DCP traffic sent in less than six months. That’s an amazing accomplishment by any measure, but even more so in view of the relatively short company timeline (see sidebar). Considering that the inaugural 2K file was first delivered to Pinewood Studios in February 2005 and that phase one of a circuit-wide installation—at CGR in France—was completed in June 2008, SmartJog has been jogging at a steady pace indeed.

Nicolas Dussert, the company’s European theatrical sales director, confirms the ratio between cinema-related services and all others, such as broadcast, new media and home entertainment, to be already 30/70. While d-cinema has opened additional doors when it comes to delivering the completed picture, he confirms that studios have already been using SmartJog services during production for the exchange of “time-critical digital dailies” and “fast-turnaround” transfers of visual-effects shots, for instance. “We already have all the necessary connections with the labs,” he says. “The distributor can deliver and retrieve the DCP to and from anywhere in the world.”

Closer to release, audio and reference picture too are delivered to post houses for local-language versions and local master creation. In preparation of a film’s launch, SmartJog then takes on “global servicing” of trailers, electronic press kits and television spots to local distribution offices and broadcast stations.

Under the headline of “Smart D-Cinema,” marketing materials summarize this “all-in-one solution” as providing “a centralized place for digital-cinema needs.” Even more, when it comes to theatrical solutions, “SmartJog is the vetted and approved digital delivery system used by the entertainment industry for the safe transfer of their most valuable assets.”

So what do theatre owners need to get access to those assets? “Exhibitors purchase the satellite dish, which can be had for about 1,000 Euros,” Dussert estimates (US$1,300), “and one of our two server options. They will also need an Internet connection,” he says of the validation process for sending and receiving. “Via a secure web interface, both distributors and exhibitors can manage, track and receive e-mail notification of their file transfers.” The “Gateway Server” of 3 TB is recommended/used for the delivery of DCPs only and not used as a storage device, whereas the “Central Library Server” comes with 12 TB, translating into up to 85 movies at 150 GB each, or 20 hours of JPEG-2000 encoded content.

“All of our servers come fully integrated with the satellite receiver hardware,” Dussert assures, “and contain all the necessary software for automatic and time-saving uploading of content to playout servers.” Speaking of the latter, SmartJog is “seamlessly integrated and totally interoperable” with the cinema servers and theatre management systems (TMS) from ADDE, Datasat Digital, Dolby, Doremi, Dvidea, QuBe and XDC.

Although the goal is to deliver everything electronically, SmartJog’s servers feature the option to load content locally from physical media or via both internal and external networks as well. This way, Dussert reasons, exhibitors can cover all ways in which distributors may be delivering. “Also, in case of any problem such as file corruption, we have partnerships with the labs for every country in order for the distributor to be able to deliver a hard drive if need be. If we have a bad satellite receiver,” he elaborates, “we can call the lab to arrange for a back-up. But we don’t deal with their actual distribution and shipping of any physical media.”

Consequently, when Dussert calls the SmartJog network a hybrid, he is not referring to the physical media options but to the combination of fiber, DSL connections and satellite dishes on the cinema roof. “Because of a very good infrastructure in France, we can deliver a full feature one of three ways. Most theatres receive content via satellite, as it gives theatres a dedicated capacity. Distributors and post houses can benefit from multicast, sending one-to-many. For example, when delivering the same DCP/file to hundreds or thousands of theatres, the delivery time is cut down.” The receiver allows live broadcasts with one and the same equipment set-up too. Speaking technically, Dussert explains, “In Europe for satellite we currently have 72 Mbps of bandwidth capacity, which will allow us to deliver content for live events in the future as well as our store-and-forward service.“

Regardless of the bandwidth, SmartJog also covers delivery of pre-show and cinema advertising. The experience with SmartJog in that particular area prompted pan-European exhibitor Kinepolis Group to expand their relationship in Belgium (13 locations), France and Spain (seven and three, respectively) in November 2009. “Kinepolis had been using the SmartJog system and network for a few years already to receive advertising content from Médiavision, as well as cinema trailers to our cinemas in France,” recalls Bob Claeys, research and development director for the Group. “Since we were very actively rolling out digital equipment in all of our cinemas in France, Belgium and Spain, we needed to find a solution capable of scalability in terms of storage and digital delivery. SmartJog’s all-in-one-solution offers just that and is already compatible with our equipment such as our Dolby servers. Adding their ‘Central Library’ allows us to store content received in our multiplexes without the need to add multiple reception and storage equipment. The flexibility of the SmartJog solution also lets us manage the delivery of our own promotional content to all of our cinemas in Europe seamlessly.”

With exhibitor partners that also include CGR (34 sites connected), Europalaces (67 sites of Gaumont and Pathé), independent and other theatre chains (82) at the home base in France, Benelux and Spain, SmartJog’s connected d-cinema network “counts 196 sites with over 850 screens in eight countries and growing,” Dussert assures. “After France and Benelux we’re now rolling out in Germany with help from fellow TDF subsidiary Media and Broadcast, and deploying in Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Portugal. In addition to these key markets, we will certainly go to other countries, of course, like the United Kingdom and Ireland.” For now, “including those in cinemas, SmartJog has a total of 922 servers deployed in 65 countries. Working with every studio, there are 92 distributors and vendors in 25 countries that utilize our service to send their DCPs… We work with all distributors and currently deliver an average of four feature films each week.”

Another “really important” aspect of those deliveries is that SmartJog checks DCI compliance of the packages, Dussert continues. “If you make a hard drive, you don’t verify the copy.” With SmartJog, however, “when labs put the DCPs on their server, there is a verification of the conformity of all files to guarantee that the DCP is complete, there are no missing files, and all is in compliance with d-cinema standards. This integrity check happens in real time, automatically. Otherwise, you could have a corruption.” Again, e-mail notifications will confirm, “You received a DCP and it is complete.”

Completing the picture further, “we have a dedicated data center where distributors can store their DCPs,” Dussert affirms. “Via USB key, they can go in locally, be it Belgium or Switzerland, and access their full catalog to select any and all versions to send to a certain theatre. Also, the French market can share a DCP with another country, for example. Our system gives clients the ability to share elements with vendors, local offices. If one cinema gets the original version and the one dubbed into French, we send the first DCP completely. For the second DCP, the system automatically detects which version has already been sent from the lab and only adds those parts that differ from and/or are supplemental to the one originally delivered.” As a case in point, that could be the dubbed language track or Swiss and German subtitles. “We only transmit the percentage that is different, cutting down on time and bandwidth—and on cost, of course.”


A Quick Jog through Time

Developed only ten years ago by France Telecom, SmartJog became an independent company in early 2002 and was subsequently purchased by TDF, a leading provider of audiovisual, new media and broadband services, in September 2006. Today, SmartJog counts more than 4,600 clients worldwide that cover everything from new media, broadcasting and digital dailies to video-on-demand, mobile TV and in-flight entertainment.

On the theatrical front, SmartJog works with distribution, post-production, dubbing facilities, advertising agencies, print labs, and digitally equipped movie theatres, of course. Some milestones for d-cinema include:

February 2005:
SmartJog delivers first 2K files to Pinewood Studios in the U.K.
December 2005: Launch of French initiative ISA for DCI-compliant film distribution to digital theatres in Europe.
September 2006: SmartJog demonstrates the electronic distribution of Paris Je t’aime, the first 4K DCP ever done in France (Éclair Laboratories) at the Entertainment Technology Center at the Warner Pacific in Hollywood.
April 2007: SmartJog connects its first commercial theatre in France: Cineplex Paris Forbach.
May 2007: SmartJog transmits U2:3D DCP from Los Angeles to the Cannes Film Festival.
December 2007: SmartJog unveils its first Central Library server with 3 TB/6 TB of storage and signs reselling agreements with Cinemeccanica, Cine Digital Services and Decipro, three leading installers in France.
February 2008: SmartJog sends a feature film DCP to Kinepolis Nancy (France) over a metropolitan fiber-optic.
June 2008: Phase 1 completed of SmartJog rollout to CGR theatres in France.
June/July 2008: Screenvision France transmits pre-show content and trailers in DCI-compliant format to five CGR theaters via SmartJog.
August 2008: Pathé Distribution is first distributor to use SmartJog for the electronic distribution of Faubourg 36 trailer DCPs to 14 connected theatres in France (ten CGR theatres, two at Europalaces, Le Paris Forbach and Le Stella Janze).
August 2009: SmartJog reaches milestone of 500 digital screens connected and 100 theatres connected.
June 2010: SmartJog delivers 100th movie to theatres in Europe, Twentieth Century Fox's The A-Team
July 2010: SmartJog delivers over 22,000 GB of traffic for broadcasters, both domestically and internationally, for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That is the equivalent of 6,000 ten-minute playouts.

Gagliano Earns Hollywood Post

This November, Ted Gagliano, president of feature post-production at Twentieth Century Fox, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hollywood Post Alliance. For the global release of Avatar, Gagliano oversaw the creation of 110 different versions in 47 languages. “An unprecedented number,” the professional group assured. There were 18 different versions for the domestic market, plus an additional 92 for international markets. The latter included over 52 subtitled and 18 dubbed versions on film, 58 subtitled and 36 dubbed versions in digital 3D, nine subtitled and eight dubbed versions in digital 2D, and 23 subtitled and 15 dubbed versions for IMAX, all optimized for different screen sizes.
Since beginning his professional career at Paramount Pictures as the 3D technical coordinator for Friday the 13th Part III in 1982, Gagliano’s Fox portfolio also included Independence Day, Moulin Rouge and Titanic. The fifth annual HPA Awards, selected by members of the organization and industry professionals, honors “well-respected individuals who have made a significant contribution to the post-production industry.”