Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 12: Doubling the Upload Speed

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Ranking System for Indie Films?

Twice as Fast
We’ve made big strides at KinoNation over the past week. Klaus has been pulling late nights building the cloud-based Transcoding Engine. This automatically encodes films to the specs for each of dozens of VoD platforms. It's complex work that's normally done manually at encoding houses -- and costs several hundred dollars per film. It's a non-trivial challenge, so I was pretty psyched to see it working -- and to see how fantastic the encoded films look! Not wanting to get too techy, but this means the huge ProRes files being uploaded by filmmakers are auto-checked on completion, queued and then transcoded into the Preview version that VoD platforms can watch and review. And then decide “yes, we want it” or “no thanks, not what we’re looking for.” So that brings us several steps closer to completing version 1.0 of KinoNation. But -- we definitely want the Upload piece of the puzzle to be faster. So far the longest upload is 19 days. That was a documentary -- 95GB file --  from New Zealand. The shortest upload was 12 hours. That's a feature from New York -- 80GB file -- uploaded from a Manhattan post facility with a fiber-optic uplink. Most uploads take 2-5 days. These are huge files. So far we’ve had over 50 full-length films uploaded, and no one has complained about the elapsed time. Bandwidth at the filmmaker end is, well, what it is. And the process is completely painless for the user. But faster would be definitely be better. So we’ve come up with an ingenious solution to double (or even triple) the Upload speed. That new technology went live today and is already being tested by filmmakers. It solves the bandwidth problem by allowing the film to be uploaded from multiple locations, simultaneously. Here’s how it works: Your master ProRes file is on an external hard drive, probably. Start the upload to KinoNation from, say, your home computer. KinoNation kicks out an email with a unique re-upload link. Now simply copy the master ProRes file to a second hard drive. Then take drive # 2 to a different location. Maybe your office. Or your mother’s house. Anywhere with a computer. Click on the link, login to KinoNation, select the movie file on the drive, and click “Resume Upload.” The new Uploader software does the rest, making sure each location uploads different parts of the movie, and then putting it all together at the end. It checks for 100% integrity of the movie file, it seems bullet-proof so far, and your movie gets to KinoNation in half the time. Or even faster, since there’s no limit to how many locations you can add -- the only factor is how many hard drives you have, or maybe how many willing friends. We’re really excited about this technology, not least because we're very filmmaker focused, and the more rapid the upload, the better the experience. Plus it's now more viable for filmmakers in low-bandwidth developing countries to get their movies to us. Feel free to try the new Uploader system as part of our Private Beta trial.

Setting Expectations
I spent some time updating the KinoNation FAQ last week, in an effort to re-set expectations about how easily (or not) films will be accepted for VoD.  We’re very sensitive to this -- in this town (Los Angeles) everyone seems to over-promise and under-deliver! We want to be the opposite of that. So here's the deal. KinoNation -- uniquely as far as we know -- will accept any feature film or full-length documentary. Once the film is uploaded to us, it's immediately transcoded into a high-quality "Preview" and then appears on the web dashboard of the video-on-demand platforms. They can watch it, or more likely scroll thru it, just sampling a few minutes. They'll have access to all the metadata, the trailer and the film's KinoNation ranking. And they'll make their decision to accept -- or reject -- the film. Every VoD platform has a curatorial process.  Some more rigorous than others, but they all pick and choose films that best fit their programming criteria and their audience taste. So there will be filmmakers who submit to KinoNation -- are reviewed by multiple outlets -- but get a disappointing "No" from everyone. That's the tough reality which has certainly prompted several discussions here about launching a spin-off video-on-demand platform that (like virtually every online music service) would take the position that "curation" is a job best suited to the audience. And maybe we'll follow through -- with the cloud technology infrastructure we're building, it wouldn't be that hard. But right now we're uber-focused on the distribution game. Keep submitting those films!

Next week: Post # 13: Indie Film Inspiration

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.