Comparing digital delivery providers
Todd Terry had a post a while back about what to charge for digital delivery, and it got me wondering if our shop shouldn't re-examine our current digital delivery providers. It seems new services are coming on-line every day, and it'd be silly not to explore what other options are out there.
The things most important to our shop are:
1. Maintaining quality of spot from NLE to air
2. Level of adoption by stations nationwide
So, here are the companies I could dig up. Anyone have any experience with any of these guys? Pros/cons? Am I missing anyone that I should consider?
On The Spot Media
Pretty good list, and would make a great COW magazine article. This is stuff a lot of people want to know.
A Cow article on this stuff would be awesome, but until then, I'll toss out my limited experiences:
DIY - Unless you're only dealing with a few stations that are very clear on their specs, this is a HUGE headache. For our shop, it's just not worth it.
DG FastChannel - Not a bad option. DG has very exacting specs, and their QC seems pretty high. Upload one spot to DG, and they'll distribute it, so it's quick and easy. Some places will automatically re-encode the DG file to conform with their playback servers, so that's a bummer. Just about everyone we've ever worked with accepts DG files.
Extreme Reach - We haven't used these guys yet, but we're looking into it. They were founded by the guys who started FastChannel, so I get the impression that ER is the new and improved version of DG FastChannel. They're all software/cloud based, so nobody has to acquire proprietary gear to work with them. They also encode your master file specifically for each station's playback server, so automated re-encoding shouldn't be an issue. Their list of stations using them is large and growing. They're also cheaper than DG.
I'd be interested to hear of others' experiences with DG, ER, or any of the other companies listed above.
Clark Creative Group
We've never used DG Fastchannel before, but have to today to upload some spots.
Our GM was talking with them yesterday to get delivery specs and all that... and out of curiosity he has the DG guy to talk him through all the steps that the file went through before reaching its destination. He was just curious how it worked.
I assumed (wrongly) that I uploaded a file to DGF, and they sent it to whomever needed it. Wrong.
I was stunned at the number of hoops that the file jumps through, according to this guy. And... unbelievably... at one point the guys says the spot actually goes to tape before moving on to the next hoop. Yes... tape. I told my GM that surely that must be wrong, but he swore the guy said yes it does.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
We currently aren't using digital delivery , however we will be utilizing it sooner than later. The preliminary research I've done on DG Systems found a reasonable price on SD spots, but the cost of delivering HD was off the map. For us it is far cheaper to simply make dubs of the HD spots. I understand the added value of tracking, guaranteed delivery, the higher cost of HD dubs (if necessary), etc. However 10x the cost of SD is a bit much. I'm going to look into Extreme Reach to see what they have to offer.
I second the motion to create an article on this subject.
Just to address Todd's concern, when you put a spot up on SpotCentral it will tell you if a station is online or offline. Only offline stations require that a tape be made. The file we send to DG is a high bitrate MPEG2 file that looks great, and laying that to Beta would not me an issue at all. And the process is seamless. However, if you prefer, if you see a station that is offline, you can just ignore that station for DG delivery and send your own Beta.
I like DG when it is an SD spot and has to go to multiple stations. One encode, multiple deliveries. I can get a spot from the timeline to 20 or more stations in less than 1/2 hour. I charge $30-40 for each station so you do the math. I posted at length below...
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production and Post
[Rich Rubasch] "the process is seamless."
Depends a little bit of your definition of seamless...haa.
We had our first dealings with DG Fastchannel yesterday, to distribute political spots statewide. Actually, my first dealings with them were more years ago than I care to count, when they were DGS just delivering radio spots. Remember the days before the internet?
I will say they were extremely nice and helpful people.
Getting the spot to them was a little bit of a struggle though.
The first one we sent, they couldn't find, because someone there told us an incorrect place to put it. The second one, had some issues... which they said were probably due to some bugs in one of their servers following maintenance on it over the weekend. The next try, they said we had field-reversal problems even though we followed their specs to the absolute letter. The next try, they said we still had interlacing problems and the spot "stops halfway through." Just when I was about to tear my hair out at the end of a 14hr day another techie there said "No, it's fine. I just looked at it with my own eyes and it's fine." So... I guess it is.
And of course, each test upload took quite a while, as we don't have the world's fastest pipeline here.
That guy (who was very VERY nice) ended by saying "So now you have a 'template' of settings and such to use for giving us files.... sorta." He went on to explain that getting files to them and the various settings is a "crapshoot" (his words, not mine) and that we could in theory have to go through a bunch of settings tests every time. He had no explanation for it, and said there was not much rhyme or reason to it. This was an SD spot... when I inquired about HD he cheered me up by saying "Oh jeez HD is a thousand times more complicated than this." Sheesh.
Other people may find it easy breezy... but we're not quite there in our shop yet.
No wonder I still love sending out Betas.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Todd's experience mirrors ours EXACTLY. And I'm not sure about Rich's online/offline explanation. When we were using DG and sending spots to over 100 markets at a time, with each spot having it's own end tag address and phone number (yes...we uploaded up to 100 spots, which took hours across multiple upload servers at different locations), they never provided us with any information about which station got a digital delivery or which station got a tape dub.
All we were ever told was that they'd deliver the spot by a certain time of day, always the next day after our uploads. We knew that some stations didn't have the digital equipment necessary and that they'd get a tape dub, but we weren't provided information about which ones. Maybe that's changed.
And almost every single station, once they received the spot (digitally or on tape), would either take the file and output it to tape, or re-encode it to a digital format for their servers. DG also would re-encode our high bitrate MPEG2 files to their own flavor of compression to make them smaller to speed deliver to their station roster. I actually saw some our DG delivered spots run in other markets like Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans and Orlando at various times, and in most cases they looked jaw droppingly bad. They usually looked like they'd been dubbed to VHS without anybody checking the setup on bars & tone...(anybody remember VHS...for that matter do any of these places actually check bars & tone?).
Our experience with their techical and customer support people is also exactly the same. With all of them being extremely nice and very responsive, but with all of them contradicting each other about technical specs (even though they had a one-sheet they sent with specs on it).
We'd have techs tell us to ignore the technical specs, that they were "just a guide," and they'd tell us to do this or that. One big issue we constantly had was with audio level. One tech told us to use -20dB as the digital standard, another said no, use -12dB, yet another told us no...use -6dB. Well that's BIG difference in audio levels. Ended up we settled internally on boosting our audio 4db from it's digital standard of -20db. We figured it would be kind of in the middle of the two international digital standards and that seemed to work.
Lastly, their billing department was woeful. One of the reasons we stopped using them was CONSTANT billing problems...mainly gross overbilling on their part, and in some cases being billed for OTHER clients traffic! Our business manager and production coordinator would pull their hair out every month having to pour over their bills to check them for accuracy against what we sent, and every single month they'd overbill us by hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. They'd also send us bills for invoices we'd paid months prior. This is the part that was truly a joke. I hate to be so critical of a company, but in our experience they were a complete nightmare to deal with when you're doing a high number of sends. We'd often send spots to 100 markets four times a month...sometimes each market would get 2 or 3 versions of a spot in one week, so we wer dealing with 300+ sends each month. There was one month where we had over 700 digital sends to stations. Now maybe they're better with smaller loads, but they just simply seemed incapable of handling that capacity on the billing side. On the delivery side they were fine, they'd usually get the stations their spots. But the other issues were just unacceptable in my opinion.
We also used Vyvx for another client, and the experiences there were very similar, with similar technical confusion and amazingly similar billing issues. This client was smaller so it wasn't as big of a headache, but it was still NOT a seamless process. It involved a lot of work on our end to manage and track.
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Read our blog http://www.videomi.com/blog
Switched from DG to Extreme Reach and loving it. Customer support is way better, and the online hub is incredible. Access to your entire creative library, easy to create/track orders, and you can even set clients up to view these as well -- so instead of them calling you to ask "is it up" they can log on and see for themselves!
My experience with DG has been very similar. My greatest concern has been how terrible my spots look and sound once on air. Please, if anyone has had better experiences with extreme reach or some of these other distribution companies, please let us know.