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Post Perspective Interviews Sohonet CEO Chuck Parker

Olivia Broadley
Nov 14, 2023
5 min read

Q&A: Sohonet on Connecting Storytellers, Integrating 5th Kind & the Road Ahead...(Interview with Post Perspective)

Chuck Parker on the Sohonet Story, Integrating 5th Kind and the Road Ahead

Sohonet says its reason for being is connecting storytellers. And in fact, they've connected thousands of companies and over 100,000 creators working across the globe.

"We work alongside studios and post teams to build a range of tools that remove technical obstacles in their workflows, so nothing gets in the way of creating great content," explains Sohonet's Chuck Parker, who joined the Sohonet board in 2013 and has been full time as chairman and CEO since 2014. "We are committed to our vision of revolutionizing the way storytellers create content by making collaboration more seamless and secure."

We reached out to Parker to find out how Sohonet is evolving with the industry, where their drive to empower creatives came from, and more…

Chuck Parker, CEO Sohonet

How did Sohonet start, and how has it changed over the years?
The heritage of Sohonet is contained in our name. In 1995, a few friends in post met at their local watering hole in Soho [London]. They represented five computer graphics companies, and they needed to find a way to send large digital files to each other quickly and securely. They also knew that if they didn't make it, nobody else would. And so Sohonet began.

At that time, the state-of-the-art was ATM. Following an MBO in 2001, Sohonet took on its first significant investment in 2012 and grew its service offering on the West Coast of the US. Since our early, experimental days, we've grown our media network into a multi-Emmy Award-winning global powerhouse and the largest private network for the M&E industry.

In 2014, Sohonet launched its first software products with our accelerated file transfer tool FileRunner. We then released ClearView Flex in 2017 and ClearView Pivot in 2020 — for sub-100ms latency remote collaborative over-the-shoulder experiences. The pandemic accelerated the way the industry viewed tools like these, taking them from a "nice to have" for occasional use to an essential and embedded part of everyone's working life.

Sohonet acquired 5th Kind earlier this year. Why was this an important move for you, and what does it bring to your users?

There is a convergence happening in the industry. As both production and post workflows move to the cloud, the ability to manage production assets at scale with people in many different places will require a more sophisticated toolset. We believe the correct approach is production asset management (PAM) and that there are several improvements we can make for storytellers in how they collaborate.

Sohonet's ClearView Flex
Sohonet's ClearView Flex

Even five years ago, everything from set to post would happen in the four walls of a building on a hard drive and tape. Asset management was a physical job that constrained the flexibility for creative labor and meant that clients had to come onsite in person.

The pandemic turned that on its head. It's normal now to have teams distributed across different cities and multiple time zones working on a shot together, grading or mixing it remotely as if all the creatives were in the same room. There are tools that solve that as a point solution — ClearView Flex being a great example — but the minute that session is over that workflow goes back to its disconnected state.

The right PAM approach means those assets can move securely to review and approve and then onward, so that every workflow is in sync. For instance, when editorial is complete, the asset can flow to a dubbing specialist for final mix, VFX shots can flow back into the process, and assets are available to streamline integrated marketing for trailers and press kits or merchandise development and integration with retail.

With the converged trends of post moving to cloud, virtual production and remote video collaboration, it is critical for the industry to embrace a secure, synchronized, data-first and superfast workflow.

You previewed several 5th Kind product integrations at IBC. How is that going, and are there plans for further integrations into your existing portfolio?

Yes, we have created two derivative products from that portfolio. Storylink is production asset management for studios, large-scale productions, franchises and multi-season episodics, and ClearView Rush is a review tool for dailies.

And there are indeed plans for further integration. For instance, when a director or DP can't attend a live ClearView session, we plan to enable the session to be recorded so that the key creative can make their notes offline and share back. We anticipate having that ready early next year.

Sohonet's FileRunner

Our file transfer tool FileRunner is also being integrated into Storylink to enable a smoother flow of data in and out of the system securely and at speed. We actually showed this on our stand at IBC in September.

Can you tell us a little more about who's using Sohonet, and what they're using your tools for?

There are three elements to Sohonet's business. One is first-class managed production services. These are essential on-set communications, such as phones, internet, Wi-Fi and connectivity, for which we are partnered with 300 premium stages around the world, including Pinewood, Trilith and Shadowbox. We also service another 400 stages with scalable connectivity, essentially connecting those premium stages to every large distribution studio from Disney brands to Warner Bros. Discovery brands, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, NBCU, Paramount and more.

The vast majority of VFX and post houses in the industry are connected to our network. That means industry participants can push large scale data, meaning multi-Terabyte plates for VFX, with confidence and with speed. And half of our business comes from a very wide range of production companies, VFX and post houses that use our collaboration solutions for remote flexible work. The primary relationships that 5th Kind has built for its products are with Marvel, Universal and Warner Bros. Discovery, as well as forward-leaning gaming companies like Riot Games, which are creating episodic and feature content from their existing IP.

Any sneak peeks for our readers? Can you share a bit about your product roadmap for the next six months to a year?

Our product roadmap for the next six months to a year is centered on redefining and streamlining collaboration workflows for media pros. We've already unveiled several important updates at IBC. And looking ahead, we are highly focused on integrating the user experience and security across our product portfolio, making it easier for storytellers to quickly find, access and manipulate assets. This approach aligns with our mission and will add substantial value to our offerings in the coming months.

Sohonet's ClearView Pivot

Our industry is readying to emerge from a challenging period. How are teams looking to bounce back from the strikes and ensure a swift recovery?

It feels like there's a similar energy to the post-COVID surge, but instead of staggered lockdown endings worldwide, we're now starting to see everyone planning in parallel for the return of production. While the return to work after the strikes is going to have some similarities to the pandemic, it's a fundamentally different situation. The pandemic emphasized remote work and the development of new production protocols, whereas the strikes brought productions and post production to a standstill. There's no fear about returning to work; everyone is eager to rush back to sets, editing rooms and facilities. Producers and post managers must be prepared for this, and all stakeholders in the industry are going to be striving for a smooth and rapid re-engagement to regain full speed, a commitment shared by everyone at Sohonet. The big remaining uncertainty for all of us is how will the returning production volume compare to the pre-strike levels? Adding to this uncertainty is the state of post production supply, with many VFX and post companies forced to significantly reduce their workforce.

Looking further down the road, what trends are you following? And what does the broader future look like for Sohonet?

As you can imagine, the team here at Sohonet has been dreaming of and planning for our industry's cloud journey for quite some time. We believe our unique capabilities will allow us to combine high-speed connectivity from 700+ stages with our products that will enable the transfer of original camera files from the set to the cloud, allowing productions to work seamlessly and securely while saving time and money.

We are excited about the future and the role we're going to play in it. We look forward to not only connecting talent to tools and to each other, but to also helping the industry unlock the power of the massive amounts of data and metadata that are produced in today's content workflows. As our industry reinvents itself in an era of powerful new tools and the collaborative creative possibilities of the cloud, we are ready to continue to literally connect the dots.

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