Keeping standards high

24th April, 2008

Distributors are finding that they need to keep a closer eye on the quality of masters in a world of HD production.

There’s little doubt that the business of programme distribution has gotten more complicated over the last few years. While on the one hand high quality HD formats are becoming standard, delivery requirements are anything but, differing not just from territory to territory but from client to client. The result has been a surge in demand for technical advice about HD by programme distribution companies.

Amsterdam-based distributor Off the Fence, which last November hired On Sight to provide quality assessments and technical re-versioning for its 1,200 hour catalogue of science & technology, nature & wildlife, travel & adventure and history documentaries.

For Off the Fence the advantages are clear. It enables the company to be sure that every programme it distributes to a roster of clients including broadcasters such as the BBC, Discovery, National Geographic, NHK, Canal Plus and ZDF, meets the high quality standards they demand.

Off the Fence uses On Sight as its “HD Lab”, providing technical assessments of HD masters and associated delivery materials. 

“What we needed, and what we got with On Sight, was a company that was totally up to date with HD technology, and could give good, fast feedback on masters which identified where there were any problems.” Off the Fence Acquisitions Manager Sam Neil.

The "HD Lab" services cover surround sound audio tracks, consultancy advice on HD production and delivery, international re-versioning, as well as performing down-conversions, HD cross-conversions, audio laybacks and repairs to HD masters. Once the distributor receives masters from suppliers it sends a tape with a technical report order form to On Sight, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the master, including what needs correcting and how much it will cost. 

“It’s not about duplication - there are any number of facilities that can copy tapes for us,” insists Neil, who uses a local duplication house in Amsterdam. “What On Sight offers is more of a consultancy service. Where it is so useful is it has the technical capability to sort out just about any HD format on the planet. We haven’t come across anything they can’t handle.”

It’s an array of talents and services that hasn’t gone unnoticed by other distributors. Producer and music and entertainment distributor Eagle Rock Entertainment, also uses On Sight to manage its HD catalogue which includes digitally-restored classic concerts such as Queen Rock Montreal. Says Production Manager Rosie Holley: “On Sight provides quality control of all our HD material and hold our HD library. They provide a good, friendly service which is consistent and reliable.”

Quality control is a critical part of any distribution business, confirms Off the Fence’s Neil. “It’s the spotting of the problems that’s critical. That’s why On Sight is so good. We have hundreds of hours of documentaries in distribution, every minute of which has to be meticulously checked. We have to be very careful about what we send out to our clients.”