Drumming Up a Movie

Wired 2.08, August 1994

Even the most sophisticated special-effects shops send approval clips to directors on videotape by messenger or snail mail. What if you could send the tape electronically in minutes? What if you and the director could then watch the clip simultaneously and make changes in real time, even though you're both on different coasts? Sprint Communications and Silicon Graphics have a suggestion. It's a network called Drums (as in drums, the oldest form of long- distance communication), and the two companies hope it will revolutionize image processing.

Using Sprint's existing fiber-optic network and Silicon Graphics's credibility in the entertainment industry, Drums is being offered to postproduction houses, advertising agencies, film studios, and anyone else who processes moving images for profit. For US$2,200, plus a monthly local access charge running about $600, Sprint will connect your office to Drums. Included in the deal is a full T1 connection at 1.5 Mbps, router equipment and all you need to connect your LAN, 24-hour technical support, and an upgrade path to ATM speed at 45 Mbps (currently available for a cool $20,000 to $25,000 a month and local access fees). Once connected, Drums users have the option of reaching other users across the Internet or remaining within the private Sprint domain.

In the two months since the Drums unveiling in March, about twenty postproduction houses have signed on to the network, with the number of new members doubling monthly. Some use Drums for real-time videoconferencing between distant offices, others to expand their business to new locations without leaving home.

Creating the Drums infobahn was surprisingly easy. Sprint got the idea last November when visual-effects specialist Wyndham Hannaway suggested that his industry needed better network access. Sprint agreed, seeing an untapped market with a need to ship digital data and to collaborate over long distances in real time. So Sprint repackaged and repriced a portion of its existing SprintLink network service for the entertainment industry. Silicon Graphics agreed to build Drums support into its imaging software, giving the project credibility and a long list of potential customers.

Expect other industry sectors to be targeted in the same fashion, from hospitals to credit card issuers. Contrary to popular belief, the infobahn many not require much digging -- just more marketing of what's already under the curb. Meanwhile, the next Sprint commercial you see may very well be a Drums product. Sprint's entire national ad campaign will be created by agencies on the Drums network. For more information, call Regina Wiedemann at Sprint, +1 (408) 894 6617.

by David S. Bennahum