RadicalMedia is a multi-disciplinary company that crafts notably moving content such as feature films, television, commercials, music videos, documentaries and digital programming. The company long dreamed of becoming a seamless digital studio across their bicoastal and international locations. We worked with them to not only achieve that goal, but also put in place a fully bandwidth-optimized system. Now, they turn out their sought after work much faster and with far less stress.
Like many media companies, RadicalMedia struggled for years under the challenge of transferring large files over distance. Their forward-thinking team experimented with different methods, but continued to feel the drag in their otherwise technically innovative production and editorial process.
RadicalMedia has post production studios in both Los Angeles and New York, so their biggest challenge used to be getting raw and finished footage back and forth across 3000 miles in order to divide workloads.
They pieced together means of sending and receiving digital files internally, with clients and thousands of freelancers, relying on a mix of technologies and “sneakernet” from FTP and FedEx to personally hand carrying files on airplanes. With high profile clients and high dollar projects, security was also a concern.
Evan Schechman is the CTO of RadicalMedia, and as founder and primary engineer of the post production arm of Radical’s team, he’s intimately aware of those old inefficiencies and how prevalent they still are throughout the industry. Along with Managing Director of Post Production, Liz Friesell-Mason, he worked with Signiant to up level Radical’s file transfer system and, in turn, their entire business.
For the first decade plus of RadicalMedia’s life, their IT team made valiant efforts to speed file transfers and utilize their network’s bandwidth as optimally as possible. Ten years ago, with a 45 MB Internet pipe between New York and L.A., they’d hoped to take advantage of the different time zones by sharing east coast projects with the west coast studio.
“Even back then, when we didn’t have HD in our pipeline and files were much smaller,” says Schechtman, “transfer times were too slow to time travel or even collaborate very well with L.A.”
Over the years, as files sizes exploded and their business expanded internationally, those hangups only grew. FTP was slow and prone to interruption, requiring constant watch and resends. Shipping physical media could take days and was a far cry from the promise of becoming a next generation, fully digital studio. Schechtman also tried purchasing additional bandwidth. Like many unfortunate souls, he was convinced by the shady promises of Internet providers that a bigger pipe would speed things up.
But traditional Internet transfer protocols experience throughput bottlenecks and generate latency that builds as data sizes grow and distance increases. And they were not designed to utilize additional bandwidth to adjust the problem. Purchasing more bandwidth doesn’t help with traditional protocols like FTP, TCP and HTTP, because the problem is latency, not bandwidth.
While we all should give homage to those who built the early Internet, its foundational protocols were written in the ‘70s, long before “big data” was a buzzword or HD was a standard. Schechtman tried some smart tricks to make his bandwidth work for him, like employing MPLS to make sure he had preferred routes. But nothing provided substantial improvement.
“It’s very frustrating, as the person who signs off on buying big Internet pipes for the company, to find out that traditional means do not let me realize the full bandwidth I’m paying for.” ~ Evan Schechtman, RadicalMedia CTO
Then, in 2013, Schechman got a call from a Signiant sales rep. At first, he was annoyed. In fact, he’d researched Signiant years before, when we were only building software for huge media giants and had yet to embraced cloud software development.
“To tell you the truth,” says Schechtman, “we looked into Signiant years ago in the heyday of Final Cut Pro, and it was very expensive to the point where a business of our size could never afford it, even though we recognized the ancillary benefits like secure transfers and return receipts. So when we started getting cold calls from Signiant people, I thought ‘there is absolutely no way!’”
But Schechtman changed his mind after hearing about Signiant’s cloud based, hybrid SaaS solution, Media Shuttle (released in 2012). It offered an affordable and flexible pricing model for next generation file transfer technology that was previously only available to large companies with multiple on-premises data centers and enterprise budgets. After all, our original software was developed for companies like Disney and BBC. It took the cloud revolution to bring that power to the masses.
RadicalMedia looked at other file acceleration solutions, but Signiant offered the best price and flexibility. They wanted to start off with a small number of users and grow organically without being locked into expensive fixed licensing commitments, and Media Shuttle’s SaaS pay-per-user model allowed just that. “We did a test transfer and were very satisfied with the results,” says Schechtman.
“Now, I can say that Signiant’s service has become a public utility for us. I don’t believe we can operate without it.”
Radical was finally able to capitalize on all of the bandwidth they were paying for. Time travel had become a reality. But they took it further. “We worked with the Signiant sales and engineering team to synchronize critical volumes between our bicoastal facilities, which really unlocked that promise from ten years ago of becoming a seamless digital studio,” says Schechtman. “And that’s awesome.”
While Schechtman, as CTO, handles strategy, purchase and setup of RadicalMedia’s technology, their Managing Director of Post Production, Liz Friesell-Mason, uses Signiant on every project and is really the one who turned Radical’s post studios into a thriving business.
Friesell-Mason started managing both coasts with a goal of having L.A. work as a fully integrated “outpost” for the larger New York studio. Before RadicalMedia had Signiant, she faced some exhaustive challenges, especially with the hard air dates of episodic television. One show is especially telling of the difference Signiant made.
GT Academy is a reality show on Spike TV (sponsored by Sony and Nissan) that takes gamers and turns them into professional race car drivers. Now in its fourth season, Radical survived the first three seasons without Signiant, barely.
“During the first three seasons of GT Academy, we gave it our all and learned a lot, but it was very stressful with a lot of hiccups in the workflow,” says Friesell-Mason. With 20 cameras per shoot day, Radical started off with a 16TB pool of media that both coasts needed to use. Dividing the workload, L.A. might edit three episodes, New York edit three, with L.A. doing all the finishing.
“Often, what should have taken a day to finish took two because of discrepancies in media delivery,” says Friesell-Mason. Since Radical was delivering finals only a couple days prior to air dates, one day turning into two meant 24 – 36 hour work shifts for her teams.
“It was exhaustive and we didn’t have any buffer to fix mistakes,” says Friesell-Mason. “When we finally got Signiant, we actually beat the amount of data we used to send overnight with FedEx.” By season four of GT Academy, Signiant was fully up and running throughout Radical’s network. And with about ten people working on each coast’s team, they were able to share the same pool of media, synch their work automatically overnight and easily deliver on time.
“Season four of GT Academy? Barely did I hear about or need to manage it. That’s how seamlessly and efficiently it ran, and that is a credit to Signiant.” ~ Liz Friesell-Mason, Director of Post Production
While working on that last season, RadicalMedia also simultaneously produced an enormous national commercial campaign for Walmart, coordinating bicoastally and with over six agencies. “People were really impressed with our ability to keep all of our ducks in a row even though we were 3000 miles away,” says Friesell-Mason. “We literally can’t do without Signiant now.”
2014 was the year Media & Entertainment got shocked into a level of security concern normally reserved for banks and governments. Now, especially if you’re responsible for the intellectual property and life work of the world’s most popular artists, security must enter the conversation.
“Security has really become a serious issue for us this past year, as it has throughout the industry,” says Schechtman, giving an example of an app they released for Taylor Swift. Radical had access to her prerelease music early in the process and knew it would cost her millions if leaked over the Internet. With Signiant software, Radical is confident in the security of their high value files, and so are their clients.
“More and more, especially as we dive deeper into the music business, Signiant’s security is the only thing that gives clients confidence to let us have those files.”
With Signiant software, RadicalMedia achieved its longtime goal of becoming a seamless digital studio across its bicoastal and international locations.
We’re proud to have RadicalMedia as a customer. They are storytelling masters, and we are grateful for the opportunity to support their work and to tell a little of their story.