Cable / Network Electronic Delivery Standards
I have to rant here for a moment. How many of you have to deal with different cable outlets throughout the country? The reason I ask and my frustration is that there is no standard what so ever for electronic files and some only take Beta SP tapes. Why bother shooting and editing in HD?
What the hell happened to a universal standard? Is it that hard to agree on one simple thing?
J. Grote, Jr.
[John Grote, Jr.] "The reason I ask and my frustration is that there is no standard what so ever for electronic files and some only take Beta SP tapes. Why bother shooting and editing in HD? What the hell happened to a universal standard? Is it that hard to agree on one simple thing?"
The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from!
In all seriousness, there has never been a single universal delivery standard, because there has never been a single universal playback or automation standard.
Part of my job is writing delivery specs for the custom playback systems used in live events. I certainly have my preferences, and I aim to make the specs as easy as possible for myself and other content creators to follow, but changing a single element in the engineering of the playback or display systems can necessitate a change in the delivery spec. Unless all broadcasters standardized on the exact same playback engineering, variation in spec is a necessary evil to ensure reliable playback.
The good news is that versioning adds value, so you should be able to charge for it.
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If it's spots, I use DGFastchannel. ExtremeReach is another option. They have standards.
Of course if you can deliver direct you can save a little money . . . and deal with the custom settings.
The biggest headache I've had is delivering to Cablevision. They want spots at :29.5 instead of :30. I had to explain this to DG when the told me my Cablevision spots I sent them were running a half second shorter than the others. I had to explain that this was their spec, which the confirmed when the contacted them. Nice to have to recut spots when you really don't want to shorten the end tags.
Every network has their own internal infrastructure. Most have gone HD, some have not. Some are HDCAM, some are HDCAM SR...some are D5...some want broadcast MPEG. There is no standard when it comes to networks and what their engineering department has decided to use.
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Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def
[John Grote, Jr.] "there is no standard what so ever for electronic files and some only take Beta SP tapes."
If you want to simplify the process you should use a spot delivery service as Craig noted. I've noticed a rise in the number of broadcasters that will only accept HD as a file, typically via DG Systems or Extreme Reach. With all the budget cutting the broadcasters rely heavily on automation. The file is delivered and routed to the playout server with little human intervention. If a spot is deliveried on tape it means that someone has to digitize and trim the spot - costing time and money. If a file is recieved from an unknown source (not a delivery service) then someone has to check the file to verify the format, frame rate, color space, etc. are all correct. Again, this costs the broadcasters money.
The engineers don't want to be bothered with checking the h.264 file that just came in from a Boise post house. He would pass the job off to the tape op, but the station laid the kid off last month. In order to reduce these nusance jobs the engineer isn't willing to share file specs. to just anyone. Engineers can be cranky and irritable, just look at Bob Zelin.
FWIW, last year the Cow started a new forum to address digital delivery delivery.
It started out focusing on spot delivery, but it has ended up being a catch all for all things digital. I wish the mods would change the name to digital ad delivery.
I guess we're lucky. Virtually all the spots that we deliver to a couple of dozen usual television stations and cable outlets have exactly the same specs. Maybe that's a rarity. The one exception is one particular cable system that absolutely forbids bars, tone, or slates on spots... whereas every single one of the others that we deliver to absolutely require them. Therefore, we always have to make a special batch for them. Pain in the rump, but at least they are the only exception.
What is a bit annoying is that there is no standard delivery method. Some of the destinations prefer FTP uploads (we usually use Filezilla). Some want it via FTP, but just with a browser upload. A couple have special upload websites. And one of them won't let us upload to them, they have to snag it from us. For them, we put the files on our server and send them download links. It'd be nice if everyone did it the same way. We maintain our "Upload Bible," which is just a big text file that lists all of the stations and their specific upload instructions. Since it changes often (seems like there is always a contact email change, or a password change), we keep one copy of this "bible" on a server here, and everyone in the building has a desktop shortcut to it. So when we make a change, everyone gets it.
I got a call from some guy in California a couple of weeks ago, some startup company (I don't even remember the name, but he was a nice guy) that wants to challenge DGFastchannel. He wondered why we didn't use them, and I explained that the few times we had, they had been nothing short of a nightmare to deal with. Plus, frankly, I think their spots look like crap on the air. This guy was giving me the hard sell, touting their exemplary customer service, beautiful encoding and all that jazz, and telling me he could get me a really good rate for their services. I went on to explain that no matter how good the rate, we'd still be paying them for the service... whereas when we do the uploading, we charge clients for doing that. He admitted he couldn't argue with that. We could use a distribution company to do it and pass the costs on to our clients, but we'd rather do it ourselves and make a little money off of it.
It's not much, we're certainly not getting rich doing uploads, but are making a little bit. To upload a commercial spot we charge clients exactly the same amount as making them a Beta dub. The difference to us is, of course, we're not spending any money on the Beta raw stock. On top of that, often our commercials are campaigns of two, three, or four spots. If they were dubs, they'd likely all go on the same Beta and the client would pay for one dub. With uploading, they pay for each spot we send, since each is its own separate upload. Again, it's not tons... but every nickle counts. And if we, for example, sent a four-spot campaign to ten different stations, that's 40 uploads... as opposed to ten dubs. That's an easy profit of a few hundred bucks.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Yes, Todd, you are lucky. I recently had to send spots to about 14 different outlets in Michigan. Two were cable systems with their own upload website, but at least they had the same specs. Of the other 12, there were at least six different combinations - some accepted HD, some SD only. A couple are mpeg-only, most of the rest Quicktime H.264. Interestingly, only two of them want slate/black/spot - the rest want the files to be exactly 900 frames. Most were uploaded to the stations FTP, also using Filezilla - but we also have a couple that have to pull from our FTP.
Like you, we just charge accordingly, but it can be a little confusing at times. And of course, the specs might change without anybody notifying us...until after we've uploaded a new spot.
Triangle Productions Inc
[Larry Melton] " I recently had to send spots to about 14 different outlets in Michigan"
Did you look into using DG or ExtremeReach?
BTW if they are on the same system the cost can be next to nothing. I've delivered to multiple TimeWarner regions in NY simply by sending one file through DG which TimeWarner than routed thought Atlanta GA. Aa a result I was only charged for one delivery ($25 SD spot). Umm, "one encode to rule the world"
The same specs all around, save for ONE oddball? You must be living right, Todd.
We used to use DG and ER quite a bit, but we've adopted a very similar approach for our digital delivery. We too keep a bible of sorts that contains delivery specs, ftp usernames/passwords, contact info, etc. One thing that we've also done is to write a bunch of scripts to create encoding watch folders to help automate the whole process. So, if I need to get a spot out to all the stations in Kansas City, I just drop a QT ref file into my "Kansas City Dropbox" folder. In about a half hour, I've got all the different versions for each station sitting within their own upload folders ready to ftp/sendspace/yousendit or whatever. I wrote a bunch of scripts with Automator and utilized Episode 5's watch folder function to handle everything (I know Episode 6 could probably streamline this process even more, but we haven't felt the need to upgrade just yet). It was kind of a pain to set up, but really nice to have once I got all the bugs worked out.
I think I was also contacted by the California upstart company. I had to tell him the same thing. Maybe I would've listened harder if he would've contacted me before I went to the trouble of setting up an automated system.
Clark Creative Group
[John Grote, Jr.] "What the hell happened to a universal standard? Is it that hard to agree on one simple thing?"
As others have noted, the "standard" is that no one has a standard. Whether it's your local cable company or national networks, everyone wants their masters delivered their own unique way.
For the most part they started with the PBS Red Book and then branched out from there. Audio in particular is where a lot of these places differ. I wrote about this a few years ago right here on the Cow.
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