Filmmaking group becomes premier agency of choice for international clients—and for a leading automotive brand—with rock-solid, secure media transfers from Signiant.
The Back Story: Chimney Group
Any agency that produces 6,000 creative pieces per year in all media formats for filmmakers, studios, commercial brands, and trade show clients, will test the limits of their technology. That was the case for Chimney Group, a full-service filmmaking and creation agency headquartered in Stockholm. Unique in its industry for being independent and employee-owned, Chimney is quite familiar with expanding to meet demand, having spent its 20-year existence continuously growing to serve the market.
“In the 1990s we started with post production of television commercials, and from there moved into feature film and entertainment,” says Henric Larsson, COO of the Chimney group. “Today we also work directly with brands, helping them create high-impact brand experiences using strong storytelling in video.”
But the biggest value they bring to their customers is less tangible. “People work with us because they like us. They trust us. We have a personal relationship,” says Larsson.
In order to keep that trust, Chimney had to keep up with the industry and the ever-increasing file sizes of 2k and 4k production. They were facing hundreds of files per project, multiple outputs for every viewing scenario, and delivery across 60 countries, all pushing the limits of bandwidth and FTP transfer technology.
The Big Challenge: Media File Transfer Across Borders and Oceans
Chimney has 11 offices in 8 countries. The agency shares a lot of footage between offices, and also crosses borders and oceans to collaborate with international partners, customers and creatives.
“In our feature film and entertainment business alone, we’re sending entire film packages down to our Warsaw office because they handle the DCPs,” or Digital Cinema Packages, Larsson explains – and those file sizes can be anywhere from tens of GB to a couple hundred.
What makes the long distances even more troublesome is crossing from one geographic region’s network to another, and the interconnects that each transfer has to navigate. “As soon as you go international, it introduces bottlenecks along the way,” he says.
And it’s only going to get worse in the future, Larsson believes. That’s because of the inordinate number of online services competing for bandwidth on the same pipe – not only on a corporate LAN, but also the larger population connecting to streaming services like Netflix, or downloading massive Torrent files.
This reality puts pressure on an agency that has built its relationships of trust upon making promises to customers about what it can deliver.
“There’s no guaranteed Quality of Service over the Internet. You can’t depend on FTP to get the file there on time. You need a guaranteed transfer time, or you can’t work on the kinds of projects we work on.”
The “Aha” Moment: Beyond Open-Source and FTP
Chimney’s production teams realized that while having reliable transfers is not at the top of everyone’s mind, it is as important and mission-critical as having UPS (uninterruptible power supply) in your facility, or as having dual power supplies on your rendering workstations.
“You can’t lose a server, you can’t have a workstation just going down with two days left before the deadline. Yes, those are tangible pieces of equipment that you can hold in your hand, but transfer is just as risky and subject to the same impact of threats [if it doesn’t work],” says Larsson.
Furthermore, several of Chimney’s customers are industrial manufacturers—for instance, automotive brands—whose ISO certification requires them to engage vendors who can meet their strict reliability standards; something that Chimney found can be problematic using traditional FTP servers to deliver brand materials.
So they bootstrapped a DIY solution using open-source file acceleration, but Larsson says they ran into obstacles almost immediately:
“Just to push a file from A to B, open source does work. But in my group alone there are 300 colleagues, not all tech guys, and they want a really solid user interface that’s easy to understand and makes sense. With open source, you have to build that yourself.”
The interface was just one downside, Larsson says.
“You need to add sync on top of that, and then code in the fallback, because even if it goes quickly when you start, what happens if it breaks for some reason? What if the server goes down, or anything else happens?”
When Larsson realized he may end up having an employee dedicated to programming code for the next year rather than service his creative customers, that’s when he investigated commercial options—and found that Signiant Media Shuttle would give his entire organization and their clients everything he needed.
Signiant technology would do all the functions his team would have had to code themselves, he found—secure, accelerated transfers, a straightforward interface, a restart if there were a network problem, and the reliability that his ISO industrial clients look for—and what’s more, it would deliver on his promises to customers.
“Media Shuttle checks the transfers and it makes sure they all go through. So I’m 100% guaranteed that the files, when they are transferred, are accurate.”
A Fresh Approach: Quick and Easy Large File Transfers
Chimney now has a team of two of its own Signiant experts on staff in Stockholm in the IT department that helps all offices around the world to set up Media Shuttle portals, and offers daily administration and monitoring for the 15 monthly projects typically active on the Signiant platform.
“Our biggest gain has been increased capacity at the entire group level, since now asset-sharing between offices is quick and easy,” says Larsson, “and everybody is amazed at the speeds.”
Being able to provide reliable transfers is proving a service advantage for Chimney, who is now the premiere choice for the clients who are specifying bigger projects. Additionally, Chimney is doing work for brands with ISO demands; they were recently approved as a supplier for the world’s biggest automotive brand out of Germany. Says Larsson:
“The enormous support for implementation and rollout from Signiant was the key to this working. As soon as we signed up, signed the contract and everything was in place, the tech guys scheduled phone conferences together to get us off the ground. We got enormous support from Signiant immediately which we would have never, ever gotten from other vendors.”
The Payoff: A Better File Transfer Solution That Yields Profit
He also contends the choice was easier based on the pricing for a company with Chimney’s business model.
“Signiant is much more competitive in terms of pricing; Signiant has adapted its pricing and product portfolio to fit mid-size and smaller companies. Competitors are not doing that,” he says.
Chimney’s clients’ budget is no longer being lost on creative and production staff waiting for transfers to go through—or spending the whole night sitting and watching FTP transfers and re-starting them if they drop. In fact, the premium delivery speeds have become so valuable for clients that Chimney is able to charge for the Media Shuttle service so it will be a profit center not a cost center.
This will be increasingly important, in an industry where agencies and producers are no longer the only ones requiring ultra-high resolutions.
Sooner or later, predicts Larsson, “Even the end clients are going to be demanding 4k and other high-res files. It’s happening already. It’s essential for anybody who wants to be a reliable supplier to a client to have the kind of technology that Signiant offers and not just do FTP like everyone else is doing.”
“In the end, you find savings if you make all the deliveries as promised. Then you keep the client happy and they come back to you again for the next job, because everything ran smoothly.”