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Case Study: Cinequest's Maverick Approach to Streaming
Cinequest Online takes films from analog to digital to streaming in six weeks, giving exposure on the cheap to independent filmmakers and high-quality delivery to movie buffs.

In a technology-driven industry like streaming media, the blow-by-blow commentary on whose codec saves the most bandwidth or offers the best video quality can overshadow the stories of early adopters actually putting into use what’s available here and now. This is the story of one such early adopter: The Cinequest Film Festival.

Filmmaker Halfdan Hussey and engineer Kathleen Powell cofounded Cinequest 14 years ago with a collective of like-minded creative and technical minds. Hussey, who also serves as Cinequest’s executive director, noticed that San Jose didn’t have a film festival of its own, so he set off to create one. The festival has since grown from four days to twelve, and is now one of the ten largest in the world.

But is about more than just screening independent films. Staying on the cutting edge of technology also fits in with the festival’s mantra (and Silicon Valley location), embodied in their annual Maverick awards, which are given to the filmmakers who did the most to push film into new territory. Cinequest’s technological focus has been on the ever-increasing shift of filmmaking from analog to digital. "The digital technologies have reduced the costs of filmmaking in every aspect," says Hussey. This year’s festival, which—as usual—took place in March, included a session on delivering films via the Internet.

To that end, Hussey and crew partnered with VOD solution provider Kontiki, who supplied their technology free of charge, to develop Cinequest Online. From this site, film lovers around the world are able to stream or download full-length movies that were shown at the festival. "We launched Cinequest Online as a chance to not only enhance the film festival, but to also create an ongoing delivery site to get films to the public, especially Maverick films that don’t make it through Hollywood," says Hussey. Eventually, Hussey hopes that the online initiative will provide a year-round presence for the festival that will stay fresh with a regularly updated film gallery.

In the meantime, it should be noted how long Hussey says it took to get eight full-length movies and dozens of shorts, scenes, and trailers from analog to Windows Media 9, and the site up and running: a mere six weeks. "When you have an exciting opportunity, it’s amazing how quickly people can get stuff done," Hussey says. In fact, when asked to list any problems that they ran into during this whirlwind setup, Hussey claimed that the only snag came about when he realized that San Jose didn’t have the citywide Wi-Fi access he’d been planning on, and he had to work with wireless ISP Etheric Networks to supply it for festivalgoers