All3Media switches to hosted messaging

When TV programming producer All3Media inherited an inflexible internal messaging and communications system, it turned to a more appealing, hosted alternative.

When All3Media, a medium-sized TV programming producer, inherited an inflexible internal messaging and communications system, it turned to Cobweb Solutions to create a more appealing, hosted alternative.

All3Media has doubled its turnover and size since 2003 with some high-profile media acquisitions, including Chrysalis TV. The All3Media Group, based in UK, consists of a number of independent TV production houses, including Assembly TV, Bentley Productions, Cactus TV, Lion Television, Mersey Television and NorthOne Television.

Outside the UK, All3Media includes IdtV in the Netherlands, South Pacific Pictures in New Zealand and Lion Television in the US. The company's programme sales arm, All3Media International, sells a catalogue of shows including Formula One, Midsomer Murders and Hollyoaks. All3Media currently has over 1,000 employees throughout the group.

Having such a large number of autonomous companies operating on new and ongoing TV shows across the globe makes it paramount that production offices can communicate with each other, says All3Media's IT director, Damien Frost. While out in the field, production teams can use any mobile device to send details − such as contacts or production information − to colleagues within a production company or across the All3Media group.

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For NorthOne's show Formula One, the production team make extensive use of Blackberries while covering races. "This saves us the heavy mark-ups that hotels make on dial-up charges," explains Frost. "We need to communicate with producers, cast and crew and other suppliers, including broadcasters, and often we need quick approvals.

“When you're dealing with investors and auditors, delays can lose you valuable time and days of hard work. For an ideal messaging solution, speed and reliability are key and email is critical. It used to be that your email could be down for half an hour before anyone noticed. Now two minutes without email is like losing a right arm."

Before switching to Cobweb's Microsoft Hosted Exchange service, All3Media used Chrysalis TV's legacy Novell GroupWise messaging system. However, following the acquisition in September 2003, it became obvious that GroupWise wasn't meeting All3Media's expectations. The company had also ruled out implementing its own internal Microsoft Exchange system and employing an in-house IT specialist.

"GroupWise wasn't as flexible for mobile messaging and didn't interface well with Microsoft Office, which was crucial," says Frost. "In particular, it didn't work well with the Scheduling and Calendar applications, which are really important for users."

Frost also wanted to avoid the IT headache of integrating disparate systems each time All3Media acquired a new production company. For him, a hosted approach saved "a very big headache" as, in common with many other senior IT staff, his typical day includes many other duties as well as IT. "[With] working on due diligence, new systems, project and people management, I just don't have the time, and we didn't want to have to spend £30,000 to £40,000 on an email specialist," he continues.

Details of upcoming TV productions can be extremely sensitive and are open to piracy, which meant security was also a top priority. Frost wanted to ensure the system they opted for would provide comprehensive protection. Cobweb's Microsoft Hosted Exchange service includes MessageLabs Anti-Spam service, and this has provided All3Media "with the level of protection we wanted," he says.

Frost approached Cobweb in September 2003, having become familiar with the company in the course of his general research. Cobweb, which now claims over 2,000 business customers, was then in its early stages, says Frost, "so it was a bit of a leap of faith to use them."

When choosing a company to provide a hosted IT service, Frost’s advice is to "take up references and also get them to demo the service. It's apparent quite quickly when you have found the right company."

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Cobweb operates datacentres in London and Fareham, with a total of more than 40,000 customers for its hosted email, website hosting and broadband internet access services. Cobweb is also the approved supplier of internet solutions to members of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

For All3Media, opting for a hosted solution meant it could rid itself of a lot of associated costs, as well as upgrade or patch worries. As with many small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), scalability was also key. There is no ceiling on the amount of users that All3Media can add to Cobweb's Microsoft Hosted Exchange service, so the company can easily add new production staff, many of whom will be freelance and only employed for the course of a set number of shows.

"We can add, say, 20 more people who might be working on one TV show, then take them back off again," says Frost. "Our costs will only decrease as we add more users, and we like the fact we pay a fixed monthly cost, as this helps with budgeting and accounts." All3Media's budgets are planned over three years, along the lines of the same model the company inherited with the Chrysalis acquisition, with purchasing made centrally and then recharged throughout the group of companies.

Frost's aim was to migrate all communication and messaging systems from GroupWise within 12 months, but some companies had already switched working requirements to Cobweb Solutions just three months later. "We progressed faster than we'd thought because it was so easy," he says.

Employees are now making extensive use of mobile devices, particularly Blackberries, of which there are currently 80 in use, both from home and on the move. "The feedback from top management has been that they love the system − they can makes better use of their time when travelling between meetings, and it's a much more user-friendly application," says Frost.

"I'd recommend anyone whose email systems under pressure, to look to a third party. Always have a say on how things are going, but remember they are the specialists. No email system is perfect, but you can certainly get a better service for the same cost."

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