SunSpots Productions Brings Streaming to Voiceover Production
While streaming has garnered a lot of attention for its increasing use in distributing rich media ads, what’s often not mentioned is its adoption behind the scenes, enabling a much more efficient post-production workflow. On February 1st of this year, SunSpots Productions introduced SunSpots eSession, a proprietary live streaming system that allows its clients to participate in real-time with one piece of the ad creation process.
With studios in Orlando, FL and Ashville, NC, SunSpots Productions "is the largest voiceover production facility in the country," says Ryan Salazar, CIO of SunSpots Productions. "Most of our customers are smaller agencies, but we’ve done jobs with agencies that work with AOL Online, Microsoft, the Kennedy Space Center, and McDonalds."
Salazar was the driving force behind the eSession project, which was developed entirely in-house. "Most of our clients are scattered around the U.S. We don’t want to make them fly here just to do a session," he explains. "With eSession, they can be a part of a session without having to physically be here." eSession also allow SunSpots’ clients’ clients to join in on the creative process; some SunSpots’ clients include copywriters in their eSession, allowing for on-the-fly editing of the script.
Clients are connected with SunSpots via teleconferencing as well as an online interface. Salazar describes the interface as follows: "On the top left you have a window of your video if you have a post-production job going on. On the top right you have a chat window. On the bottom left is live streaming video of the engineer. On the bottom right is live streaming video of the voice talent."
Salazar admits that the chat window "doesn’t give you a whole lot, since everyone’s already on the phone; it’s more for quick notes during production," he says. But eSession as a whole has been an effective way of bringing in business that might otherwise have been impossible to handle due to geographic constraints. "It’s brought us clients that would probably not have been with us if we didn’t have eSessions," he says. And because SunSpots put it all together in-house, saving development costs, they’re able to offer the service for free to their clients.
During the development of eSession, Salazar tried a multitude of encoding options. "There was a lot of experimentation. We were trying to go with Flash originally, but it appeared that you couldn’t do it live," he says. "With Windows Media we were getting ten to twenty second delays depending on a million different things. With VX30, depending on how the software was running, we got a three second delay. We needed to go a whole lot more real time." Delays of this length result in clients hearing the audio of their productions through the phone first followed only later through their computer speakers, causing an unwanted distraction. "With DivX, there’s a really minimal delay, and the audio quality’s great as well as the video," he says about the technology he eventually decided upon using with eSession.
While facilitating this kind of communication is nothing new to streaming, eSession is the first of its kind in the voiceover market. SunSpots Productions has embraced online technology in a big way; in early 2004, they launched ezCAST, the voiceover industry’s first search engine. Today, the database holds over 3,000 audio and video samples of voice talent, searchable by sex, age, voice range, and specialty demos. Currently, ezCAST works via a progressive download, but Salazar plans to switch the system over to streaming within the next couple of months.
Salazar is also busy working on expanding eSession’s reach to its disparate talent base. As it exists today, eSession requires voice talent to be in-studio during a session. The next generation will enable SunSpots’ 150+ voice actors that work from home studios to join in on the eSessions action. "I’ve been trying to find a way to get a mass amount of cameras," says Salazar. "Once we get the right product, we’re going to get it to our talent."
Eventually, Salazar hopes to bring all of SunSpots Productions’ communication under one streaming umbrella. "Our Ashville and Orland offices are connected 24/7 streaming over two channels live in real-time," he says. "So we can send talent to North Carolina and vice versa simultaneously at 96kbps and higher if we want. We’re trying to combine the two locations virtually." SunSpots’ phone systems have already been transferred to VoIP, and Salazar envisions one day having enough bandwidth on-site to eschew the need for dedicated downloading devices like those from Telestream entirely.
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