When I initially received the press release regarding the collaboration betweeen Sydney based SilverTrak and Telstra on ‘Cinema Direct’, I wanted to know more. So I fired some questions to Digital COO of SilverTrak, Christian Christiansen (right).
Here’s the result. It is a fascinating technology and has huge promise, not just for the large cinema chains and film film distributors either.
AV: Can you describe the Cinema Direct system in laymen’s terms?
CC: Cinema Direct installs an enterprise grade wireless, smart box into a cinema that will accept DCPs and live streaming through the Telstra 4G and 5G Networks. Telstra Broadcast Services provides a secure end to end service that does not traverse on public or shared networks and thus controls and manages the bandwidth and the box itself.
AV: How long has it been in development? Is it an Australian development?
CC: It has been attempted before around the world. I believe Australia is the first place where the concept has been truly commercialised. Telstra has had all the building blocks for some time but was missing a supportive commercial partner.
AV: It works on both 4G and 5G. As 5G in Australia at this stage at least is at best minimal, how long does it take to send a 2-hour movie over 4G versus 5G
CC: It is important to note that 5G is no longer minimal and covers well in excess of 75% of the population. Telstra will be deploying enterprise grade modems and high gain antennas, with the majority of content transfer scheduled for off-peak times where existing customers would not be impacted.
In recent Telstra trials, a 2-hour DCP (approximately 200 GB) was transferred over 4G in 80 minutes using an indoor LTE Cat-20 modem. The transfer over 5G was completed in approximately 22 minutes. The trial was completed indoors in a typical suburban theatre, without the use of a high gain antenna. It will be different for every cinema of course, however the transfers are monitored by a broadcast-grade 24×7 media control room.
AV: As I wouldn’t have thought time was a big constraint on movie delivery to cinemas, what is the advantage to the cinema?
CC: For the cinema, the advantage is assured delivery. It is not affected by NBN outages, it does not pass through any third-party systems. This is a platform fully under Telstra’s control – which increases both security and reliability.
AV: Does this also mean for example, sporting events such as AFL Grand Final, Australian Grand Prix, Boxing Day Test or Bathurst 1000 etc could be licenced to a movie theatre allowing the public to view on a big cinema screen live?
CC: The Cinema Direct Marketplace is being developed as the Cinema Direct rollout is taking place. Where Telstra plays an integral part is that they are the primary broadcast and production carriers for most of the major sporting codes and events. This means that as long as the content owner allows it, acquisition and broadcast of ultra-high quality live content to the cinema is absolutely in scope.
AV: Does it work globally then? Could a live concert in Wembley Stadium say be broadcast to a cinema in Halls Creek and watched in real time?
CC: Absolutely, in fact this is a key aspect to the Cinema Direct offering Telstra is a global Tier 1 carrier with over 450 permanent live services and several thousands of hours of live events every month. They have the ability to connect to almost any live event anywhere in the world. With a global media footprint including dedicated fibre access into over 1,500 venues globally, numerous content partners and professional media interchanges around the world, the use case you mentioned is core to the proposition.
AV: What is the cost to the cinema of such a system?
CC: There is no cost for install and maintenance of the system to the cinema. No cost to have a DCP delivered. We are having discussions with the cinemas in regard to how the commercial model for live content would work. That model will no doubt change depending on type of content and exclusivity.
AV: Could a local event – Bridgetown Blues Festival here in Western Australia for example – do the same thing and licence it to theatres outside the region?
CC: Absolutely. If there was interest and it was commercially viable.
This is a key differentiator of the platform. It is the same platform powering DCP transfer and live events as what is used for broadcasting and transferring major events worldwide. A cinema would need only organise a production crew and cameras, book a transmission event, and plug in and Cinema Direct will deliver it to any Cinema Direct connected cinema that would be interested in the event.
Alternatively, Cinema Direct can produce an event, stream the event and market the event. It just has to be commercially viable.
AV: How would a camera / audio feed from such a thing, accepting it might just be a single camera and mic, been deployed to the system?
CC: The platform can accept industry standard interfaces, such as HDMI, HD-SDI and IP.
AV: Is there provision for advertising or sponsorship to be overlaid on the video / audio stream?
CC: This is a capability of Telstra Broadcast Services and can be booked through Cinema Direct
AV: Is the feed stored for any later playback?
CC: We can time shift an event and of course record and store it.
The definition of ‘live’ often means it has to be streamed within a 24-hour period and often the rights to record and store an event are not part of what Cinema Direct and cinemas buy.
AV: Anything you can add? Is there a demonstration of the system anywhere that can be viewed?
CC: There will be a demonstration platform available in Sydney within the next few weeks.