23 years ago, five post production guys walked into a bar and decided to start digging up the streets of Soho, London. Not to form the punchline of a droll joke but to create something quite special that would change the way our industry works. The team, who were made up of a number of the biggest names in post from The Mill and MPC to Framestore and Technicolor, invested in laying down a high-speed network through which their companies could securely and quickly transfer large format digital files.
Today, Sohonet is more than just a local network, it is a global technology company that works with some of the world’s biggest names in advertising, film and broadcast, from Guy Ritchie to Pinewood, Disney, Lucasfilm, NBC and Technicolor.
Sitting down with Chairman and CEO, Chuck Parker and CTO, Ben Roeder, it is intriguing to learn how the company transformed from its humble origins as a private network in London, into a leading technology company for the media and entertainment industries.
At the time Sohonet was created, the majority of film content was still being ferried between studios, production and post production facilities on tape, disc or even as film workprints. Whilst there was internet at this time, the connections were neither fast nor secure enough to handle the huge amounts of data that needed to be transported.
In a film about the origins of the company, original Co-Founder of Sohonet, Neil Harris explains that initially the network was connected by existing phone lines before becoming an autonomous beaming system and then finally its own physical cable network. The team had imagined that other production hubs around the world would also be setting up private networks for the same purpose of file transfer. "In the beginning there were a lot of bits of elastic bands and string holding it all together. The way we thought it would work is that people would be making lots of these little private networks around the world and that we would plug in to them. However, it turned out they didn’t exist, so we went and built it for them.”
The founders of Sohonet look back on the unique origin of their company.
In the following years, Sohonet grew to become the world’s largest private, high-performance network for the media industry. The Jungle Book, the latest Jurassic Park and the new entries into the Star Wars canon are amongst a few of the big blockbuster films to have traversed the network and taken advantage of Sohonet’s film services in recent years.
Seeing the benefit of these services in the commercial realm, a number of advertising’s best creative shops have adopted the tech, swearing by the system’s capacity and reliability.
MPC, Universal Music Group and Goldcrest are among many who are using the services to fast-track their workflow processes. What’s more, with the commercial industry delving further into data and targeted marketing, the security of commercial film files and data is becoming increasingly important, particularly with new data protection legislations coming in to place in 2018.
“Hollywood has always been an early adopter of digital transfer technology and stringent network security but with recent changes in data protection law, trusted digital security will become even more important for anyone involved in the advertising process,” explains CTO, Ben Roeder, “because the network we have is private, nothing touches the public internet, making it easier to meet the strict content security requirements of the major studios or the MPAA.”
Alongside its network and file transfer services, Sohonet has also developed bespoke technology that allows creatives and film-makers to collaborate on content, seamlessly, wherever they are in the world.
“We have always been invested in the needs of people in the media industry,” explains Chairman & CEO, Chuck Parker. “Our leadership team all hail from film, technology and production backgrounds. Over the past 20 years, we have seen massive changes in the globalisation of advertising. Whilst production and media have always been global, there has been an increasing need to work remotely. It saves precious time and money on flights and is becoming a lifestyle standard offered by many businesses to their employees. The problems we face as an industry are that the public internet can’t handle the network needs of real-time review and approval necessary to ensure seamless collaboration during shooting and post-production. We developed the ClearView HD and Flex services specifically to tackle this problem.”
Chuck Parker, Chairman & CEO explains the benefits of collaborative software on News Watch
“We have developed this technology to reduce the length of the production cycle; saving money and opening up the world’s creative talent to clients in any country. Besides this, it also gives everyone involved the opportunity to work on more productions simultaneously and ultimately perform more tasks in one day.”
Sohonet tells us their service is in fact the closest you can possibly get to review and approval in real-time, on the market.
"We focused on optimising both the encoding and streaming technologies we use to maintain two frames of delay (plus the speed of light), which is nearly imperceptible. We have also eliminated any buffering that could put the sessions out of sync or create security risks by storing content on the viewer's device. In this industry it’s so important when working remotely that the connection is not only failsafe but without lag,” adds Ben. “If the picture or sound lags, you can find yourselves working on different frames than your remote colleague or client that will end up delaying production. We knew when we developed ClearView Flex that it had to be as close to instantaneous as possible or it wouldn’t be worth making.”