Digital Studio Distribution Services Stocks the World’s Digital Shelves
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” said Walt Disney, a quote is quite literally painted on the wall at Disney’s Digital Studio Distribution Services. For the six-person team that stocks the world’s digital shelves, doing the near-impossible is a job they do every day with gusto. And it is a herculean task: at any given moment, the group handles 700 orders for new releases, library titles and special releases headed for North America, Latin America, West and East Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Russia in dozens of languages and formats.
Artin Nazarian, director of the team, reports that iTunes is their primary responsibility – “Apple is clearly the biggest player in this space” – but Digital Studio Distribution Services also handles orders for many other platforms, including Sony, InDemand and providing support for Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others. Each platform, of course, has its own technical specifications and its own language requirements. According to Nazarian, the team delivers between 45 and 50 languages through iTunes for global releases.
The process starts with orders submitted by each sales region into the unit’s order and workflow management tool – ESTN (Electronic Sell-Through Network). The team wrangles supplementary assets such as trailers and posters, and handles the multiple language deliveries, with audio and subtitles; video and the metadata, which Nazarian deems “the primary driver of the entire business.”
Metadata, which begins its life in English, includes everything from the title and plot synopsis to cast and crew information. “Metadata is very, very detailed,” says Nazarian. In fact, iTune’s automated infrastructure is so reliant on metadata that an extra space or misspelling is enough to result in a rejected delivery. All the metadata is “localized” by each region and then processed and delivered to iTunes, for approval territory-by-territory. To make this detail-oriented process more accurate and efficient, Digital Studios Distribution Services developed an input template that checks for accurate metadata and catches errors before the title reaches iTune’s approval process.
Newly named, Digital Studio Distribution Services (formerly part of Library Technical Services) has been part of the Digital Studio Services team since last April as part of an effort to consolidate file-based activities though the Digital Studio. In addition to working closely with the Digital Studio Services operations team headed by Michael Merrill, Artin and team also stay on top of the work of two key third party vendors that ready the material for distribution. “Some orders are very hands-on, where we do a lot of troubleshooting,” says Nazarian. “For orders at an outside vendor, it’s more about vendor and project management.” Even when each title has been approved, Digital Studio Distribution Services remains involved in how it is functioning on each digital platform. “We ensure that dates and prices are correct,” says Nazarian. “We are also involved in resolving customer issues.”
One of the challenges is that digital platforms continue to multiply. In addition to global digital platforms such as Samsung, Amazon or Google, Digital Studio Distribution Services also handles a number of smaller regional distributors competing in the space. “For example, a regional digital retailer may also be a legacy broadcast operator,” Nazarian explains. “In the past, we’d send a tape that they aired. Now they’ve launched digital shopping areas and we continue dealing with the same team.”
Another challenge is the volume of orders: In fiscal year 2013, the team serviced close to 4,000 orders and Nazarian reports that the volume is increasing, with spikes of 800 orders at a time and a predicted monthly flow-through of 450 titles. “Every month the numbers and predictions change,” says Nazarian. “It’s like the Wild Wild West.”
That compares to a much simpler world in the days of physical delivery of DVD/Blu-Rays. In 2006, Studio Op’s delivered 50 masters for replication of a Pixar title; in 2012, that number skyrocketed to 300. “Each different digital distributor has different specs and its own nuances. iTunes, Google and Amazon have spent billions building an infrastructure, with asset specs that are unique to them, which makes our job fun.”
To keep the energy up and positive, Nazarian brings the team together with activities related to development and growth. There’s that wall with inspirational quotes. The team also selects motivational books that they read and discuss, and individuals in the team present relevant TED videos on everything from happiness to customer service.
The result? Digital Studios Distribution Services succeeds at creating a seamless delivery of hundreds of titles in a multitude of specs and languages to the world’s increasing number of global digital platforms. And, in the process, the team makes delivering the impossible look like fun.