And while Sewell doesn't want to get a reputation as champion of the little shops (because he doesn't want be stereotyped out of doing business with the big shops, too), he has clearly struck on a viable business model with WireDrive, a service that will appeal to small- and medium-sized production facilities alike.
At April's NAB, Sewell's company launched WireDrive, a client review and approval system that enables the exchange of files and feedback between production entities and their customers anytime, anywhere. Designed for busy executives, managers, artists, and account reps to use over any Internet connection, WireDrive offers online production management custom-tailored to a company's brand image and needs. WireDrive is already helping facilities such as Whitehouse Post, Red Car, MJZ, Bob Industries, ProductionPoint, and Headquarters Films to manage projects and centralize daily client communications with major advertising agencies and corporate accounts.
Producers, assistants, freelancers, and clients simply log into WireDrive to view their project. Media including scripts, storyboards, schedules, and video can be quickly uploaded, previewed, and shared. Each file can be tagged with titles, descriptions, commentary, file attachments, approval status, and other useful information. Projects can be initiated and managed easily without relying on IT support, sluggish email correspondence, cryptic FTP directories, and the dubbing and shipping of videotapes.
"In a digital age, a company's project management approach can materially affect relationships with its clients," says Sewell. "In the past, many organizations tried to get by with home-made solutions like FTP instead of using real online production management tools. More and more, agencies and national clients no longer accept working this way and are demanding better service.
"FTP is good for moving a file to another place, but it doesn't send any meaning about what the file is about," Sewell notes. "Today FTP is still the number-one media asset management toolset in the industry despite the fact that it is rudimentary and bad for the job."
Sewell also believes that production houses that "get sloppy" with FTP give their clients a unprofessional impression of themselves. Production houses often get careless with FTP, he says, especially when the shop's resident computer geek is unavailable. He believes shops that don't progress beyond FTP transfers will eventually alienate ad agencies and other clients. "Agencies no longer regard FTP as a good business tool," he says.
Sewell obviously believes that his WireDrive can help production companies step beyond FTP. "You need a single library that is always current, a library that supports the whole production team," he says. In WireDrive, this central library or virtual team meeting place is called the Client Lounge. Like a real-world client lounge, it is a place where client and production staff can meet and exchange files and feedback.
Sewell also touts his service's flexibility and scalability. "Some companies just need a ‘simple system' to post video while others need more power to manage complex productions. Wire-Drive's price point makes it realistic for any size organization."
Sewell says that the ideal WireDrive user is not necessarily large or small but active. "Our client base consists primarily of the industry's busiest companies, companies that can't afford to have bottlenecks," he says, noting, "A single delay from working off the wrong storyboard or the wrong video file can be a very costly mistake."
Sewell defines WireDrive as an "online service." The user pays for the initial setup and any customization, and then there's usually a monthly hosting charge, but the client is free to serve as its own host or to choose another third-party host. IOWA doesn't charge per user as many competitors do, says Sewell. "Coming up with a viable business model for WireDrive has been as difficult as coming up with the technology," says Sewell. "What good is a technology solution if it's too difficult or costly to use?" he asks rhetorically.
Getting started with WireDrive is easy, according to Sewell. IOWA sets up each new customer's version of WireDrive on its servers, which can then be accessed through the user's Web browser. There's no need to install additional software or pay for any IT support. Once logged onto WireDrive, users can initiate new projects, add other users, and upload project files at any time. Email can also be used to upload files into a WireDrive project, and customers who work with large amounts of digital video can deliver the media in rapid time directly from Telestream's FlipFactory encoding program.
When new work is posted, clients are notified via email with a link that automatically logs them in to review the material. The review process is clean and simple—files are labeled and previewable online. Security is ensured in that clients see only their project, not those of other entities or agencies that may be on the same vendor's roster. WireDrive uses 128-bit SSL encryption.
One happy WireDrive customer is Bootsie Battle, head of development at Space Program, a commercial production company in Universal City, California. "Every year we go to NAB and are blown away by really cool tools that are too expensive and overloaded with features for us to actually use," Battle says. "What makes WireDrive so apropos is that it's both easy to use and cost-effective for a creative facility of our scope and size. IOWA also understands the essentials of servicing a high-caliber advertising clientele and mapped out our WireDrive site directly to our needs."
Flexibility and Creativity
IOWA lists a number of Hollywood's most prominent production companies among its WireDrive user base, but probably the highest-profile WireDrive user so far is Morton Jankel Zander, one of the world's hippest and most successful producers of TV commercials and music videos. MJZ has created award-winning international campaigns for Citibank, Sony, Lexus, Starbucks, Blue Cross, Budweiser, Fox Sports, JC Penney, and Hewlett-Packard.
IOWA announced its association with MJZ in April at NAB. According to the announcement, MJZ will link ad agencies and other creative vendors to its custom-tailored WireDrive Client Lounge to enable immediate feedback, review, and tracking of its latest projects, and will also use WireDrive's Web-based tools to centralize project management and communications across MJZ's domestic and international facilities.
With offices in Los Angeles, New York, and London, plus numerous international productions, MJZ was looking for a solution that would allow clients, producers, artists, location scouts, casting agents, and others to access project files at any time from one common place. Furthermore, the system needed to be easy to use, ideally as a transparent extension of the company's brand and services. MJZ chose WireDrive to meet these needs.
"It was a real challenge to find a company with a service flexible and creative enough to enable us to work with our clients in the way that we wanted. IOWA took our ideas and requirements and integrated them into an attractive, straightforward system that bears our visual design and identity," says Jeff Scruton, senior executive producer with MJZ. "Clients can transition from our Web site to our WireDrive Client Lounge without feeling like they are disconnecting from one site to another. It's completely transparent and lets everyone view their project with ease."
Prior to implementing WireDrive, MJZ was managing projects via FTP. Seeking to increase productivity by having all parties on the same page during client conference calls, MJZ decided to test drive WireDrive during a production for Jeep. The experience, which allowed multiple locations scouts in London, Australia, and New York to upload and view images via a centralized interface, was a positive one for the MJZ staff. The Jeep success led MJZ to then begin working with IOWA to build a customized WireDrive installation into its upcoming IOWA-designed company Web site.
MJZ's WireDrive is designed to be easily accessible to clients, who receive links whenever there is new media to be reviewed. Busy account managers and members of the creative staff simply log in and use the site without any of the past frustrations of file or platform incompatibilities.
"We work in a fast-paced environment with lots of work happening out of town and overseas," Scruton says. "From the moment we get storyboards in, our WireDrive site will be a resource for people to consolidate still images, casting photos, QuickTime clips for casting selects, location images, and more. We also expect many additional uses for the system, such as connecting our offices for an easier way to use and view production elements internally."
WireDrive was developed out of IOWA's own need for a well-organized, visually satisfying way to show work-in-progress to its clients. IOWA originally stood for Input Output Web Applications, though today, IOWA "is just a non-techy non-threatening name for a company," according to Sewell. The company got underway around 1995 when Sewell was hired by CBS to create the CBS PromoNet, which he claims was "the first" extranet in the TV industry. "Five years ago when I started working for CBS," says Sewell, no one in production/post production was working online.
"Five years from now," he predicts, "no one will not be working online."