ChilliBean's ChilliVault

Over the years, there has been an increasing globalization of television advertising, with advertising agencies producing a single creative piece of work that is then shown in all world markets. For global brands, this approach has clear economic and marketing advantages.

During this process, the creative is produced, for example in London or New York, and then is distributed either in its finished form for subsequent transmission or in a form known as an ad kit, which consists of the elements that make up the finished commercial. These include clean versions of the visuals over which titles can be laid and separate audio tracks to which local language voice-overs can be applied to localize the ad for the intended geographical market.

To maintain picture and sound quality, the finished spots and ad kits need to arrive at their destination in a high-quality format that the broadcaster/post house can work with. This requires two skills: IT and good old-fashioned client service. Thanks to the intricacies of global TV advertising, there will often be a string of versions required, such as a full-length 60-second version and then 30-, 20- and 15-second cut downs; 50i and 60i HD versions; and PAL and NTSC SD versions — all in both clean and titled form. Hence, from one 60-second ad, multiple, different versions are required by each TV station or post house around the globe.

Traditionally, a traffic or TV production department would courier DigiBeta tapes to the stations. The advantages of DigiBeta tapes are that they are high in bandwidth and virtually uncompressed, they contain a lot of data in a small parcel, and the DigiBeta machine has been ubiquitous in TV stations and post houses for many years. However, with multiple versions of the same ad required for hundreds of TV stations in multiple global markets, this equates to a large amount of expensive tape dubbing time, blank tape stock and delivery costs. Digital distribution offers savings and avoids the delays caused when packages are held up by customs.

Today's technology facilitates the distribution of transmission-quality commercials cheaply and easily over the Internet. A 30-second uncompressed TV spot in SD will typically have a file size of 700MB and the equivalent HD version 2.5GB. Trying to FTP files of this size reliably can be a hit and miss affair. Because of their size, they can take several hours to download and upload. If the FTP connection is interrupted during this, then there's little option but to restart the transfer.

The problem with FTP (and HTTP and any other TCP-based protocol) is that it performs badly on high-latency links. Each packet in a TCP stream needs to be acknowledged to ensure successful delivery. This means that the sender must wait until the current set of packets is acknowledged before sending more.

A solution

ChilliVault is ChilliBean's proprietary DAM and distribution software. (See Figure 1.) It runs on dual independent remote servers supported by a global CDN. The operation is spread over three sites, including two hosting centers with replicated content, each capable of serving the whole vault in the event of one site failing. Should one of the datacenters go down, then delivery can continue without waiting for that part of the service to come back. All three sites are networked on Sohonet's 100Mb/s network, which has global links. Aspera's fasp transfer technology eliminates bottlenecks of FTP, HTTP, etc. When combined with a global CDN, the result provides reliable delivery of large files to the desktop.

Aspera uses UDP packets, which don't require separate acknowledgement, for the actual data and a separate channel to verify that the whole file has been delivered to or from the remote location. Thus, packets of data can be sent out as fast as the link can take it and lost packets redelivered once they are detected. Strong hashing algorithms ensure that the whole file is transmitted or received with complete fidelity.

Hence, ChilliVault is a Web-based, software as a service (SaaS) system that can be used to reliably upload, distribute and archive TV ads. Each version of the ad is uploaded once into the system with attendant metadata either by the TV post house or by the ChilliBean client services team. Secure links to the relevant version are e-mailed to all the TV stations requiring delivery. The file downloads are tracked and form a proof of delivery once they are successfully downloaded. No special equipment is needed at the client end; the transfer is initiated in the browser and just requires the use of a freely downloadable plug-in. Delivery fees are charged on a per station basis. In addition to the obvious time savings of online delivery compared with couriers, there are significant reductions in administration time and cost savings made by not having to duplicate and possibly standards convert a videotape for each TV station. All TV spots can be archived on the the system's servers and thus are always available for redownload or redelivery if required.

Digital distribution offers advertisers cost savings, and it is greener. Also, digital distribution reduces the possibility of delay caused by weather or natural disasters. It is a cost-effective way to ensure transmission-quality content reaches the destination regardless of time constraints. Not unimportant, ChilliVault is an operational expense rather than a capital expense as no software or hardware needs to be purchased, installed, hosted or maintained.

Taking the physical side out of distribution means that urgent jobs can be handled quickly. The only time needed is that required for uploading and downloading material.

Peter Godden is the commercial manager for ChilliBean.