When Comedy Central first came to me, their Off-Air Promotions team (responsible for making Web ads, billboards, and posters) was using e-mail to route artwork—between creative team members, management, and legal—for approvals and production. Version control, naturally, was a nightmare.
Working with a senior art director in that group, I built the first generation of their workflow system. Dubbed CCShare, it was specifically tailored to the needs of the team. It incorporated real version control, one-click approvals, and integrated messaging, to streamline the review process and provide a record of each project from start to finish. Approvers could see how their peers had voted, and could toggle versions back and forth to see if the changes they had requested were properly incorporated. And Legal wouldn’t even see an ad until the creative director had approved it.
When the On-Air Promotions team saw this system in action, they wanted it for themselves, but they also needed it to handle the enormous files typical of video production. What we delivered was a single system that worked seamlessly for both gigantic broadcast video files and tiny animated GIFs.
Born to run
The finished system is built with Ruby on Rails, and deployed on Amazon Web Services’ EC2 and S3 services—the same combination that powers Netflix. Multiple virtual servers “spin up” to handle surges in processing demand, and spin down when they’re not needed, saving energy and money. Transcoding software automatically resizes the broadcast video assets to a usable size for Web playback, and ensures that the resulting formats are playable in all modern browsers.
During peak usage, the system manages over 5,500 new assets each month, and tens of thousands of messages between team members. This enables a relatively small team of designers and editors to produce all the on- and off-air promotions needed by a busy television network.