“That’s the best thing about movies,” says Senthil Kumar, co-founder of Qube Cinema, “that you watch them but don’t have to bother about the kind of technology which goes into it.”
Senthil, however, has to bother about it, for his Chennai-based company has spearheaded the revolution in film production and distribution technology not just in India, but also the world. And with the success of Kabali, which was released on a massive scale across the globe with the help of a new distribution platform created by Qube, the company is now reaching new frontiers.
Gone are the days of the film-reels and huge screen projectors, it is all digital now. But even digital technologies have come a long way.
Qube is the only company in India which has created digital cinema technologies and among the four or five in the world, says Senthil. And they did it for Kabali with a new innovation called Qube Wire, and on an unprecedented scale.
Senthil Kumar, co-founder, Qube Cinema
So how are films distributed in the 21st century?
Any film, after it has been edited to a particular story line and has been audio-mixed, is still ‘raw’.
This ‘raw’ film could hold anywhere between 4 to 12 terabytes of data, for an average Indian film, and isn’t yet ready to be displayed on the cinema screens. It has to be ‘mastered’ and ‘compressed’.
The mastering process includes, for instance, making the audio of the movie customized for a cinema hall with a surround system.
The compression, of course, would be to reduce the size of the movie so it occupies the least digital space. After compression, a movie usually comes down to about 250 to 300 GBs.
This compressed, mastered and encrypted movie is called a Digital Cinema Package (DCP).
This DCP is now put in a physical hard-drive and sent to cinema theaters across the world. Movies are also transferred through satellite and high bandwidth data lines.
Now, that’s not all.
The DCP’s are protected by a ‘key’, which is like a password specific to each version of a movie and the digital cinema player in each theatre. Only if you have the key, will the movie play out. And the key will have an expiry date too. So after cineplexes get the hard-drive with the movie, they get a key, usually on email, which they have to enter to play the movie. The movie industry refers to these keys as Key Delivery Messages (KDMs).
“Using Qube Wire, you don’t have to send emails and track key distribution manually. We created a dashboard of sorts, and the system takes care of everything, you just have to enter the name of the cinema theatre you want to give a key to,” says Senthil, adding that this has never been done before.
Soon, using Qube Wire, producers will also be able to transfer the movie online, instead of sending it across on physical hard-drives or via satellite.
“We handled the entire overseas distribution of Kabali, and took it to 3500 screens in the world including India. In many countries, you need multiple keys for cineplexes, so we generated and distributed about 18,000 keys,” adds Senthil.
The technology doesn’t just make it an easier process, but also reduces costs, says Senthil.
They have filed for patents in India, US and Europe, and other patent-pending features include the ability to assign movie rights to specific territories too, that is, a particular key would work only in a cinema theater in Chennai, not in Mumbai.
Kabali producer, Kalaipuli S Thanu, is evidently impressed. “I was amazed at the ease of use of Qube Wire and how well it has handled the scale of this movie’s release,” he says, adding that it was a revolutionary product.