Who should benefit from this?

Individuals interested in the following areas:

  • Media Streaming
  • Digital Screening
  • Content Security
  • E-commerce
  • Cross Collaboration
  • Enterprise Integrations
  • Ticketing

The Brand

The Sundance Film Festival, a prestigious event in the world of independent cinema, was founded in 1978 by Robert Redford. Renowned for championing independent filmmakers, it is held annually in Park City, Utah. Sundance has become synonymous with original storytelling, showcasing a diverse array of films including documentaries, feature films, and shorts. The festival is not just a platform for film screenings; it's a vibrant community event featuring panel discussions, music, and interactive programs.

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the Challenge

In early 2020, the Sundance Institute faced an unprecedented challenge - how to host their flagship film festival virtually for the first time ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the annual January event in Park City, Utah welcoming over 250,000 attendees, shifting the entire festival online in just a few months required building a comprehensive digital platform from the ground up.

Sundance turned to Anshar Labs, an enterprise software and app development company, to create and deliver a solution in time for the 2021 festival. With a shortened timeline of only 5 months, Anshar took on the monumental task of conceptualizing, designing, building, testing and launching an incredibly complex platform on a scale never done before.

Obstacles

Hosting Sundance virtually presented a variety of technological and organizational obstacles

  • No existing infrastructure for digital ticket sales, video streaming, scheduling, etc.
  • Highly complex business rules around 5+ audience types (press, donors, students, locals, public)
  • Highly secured viewing experience required with tight access control
  • Integration with Sundance's backend systems like payments and accounting
  • Building both frontend websites and backend administrative portals

It was clear extensive custom software was needed to be engineered specifically for an event of this scale while also satisfying Sundance’s strict digital experience requirements.

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First Pivot

The first step in Sundance’s digital transformation was a private online screening of the film Boys State in June 2020. Using a registration-based website, Sundance invited select audiences to this exclusive preview event featuring robust security like DRM and forensic watermarking to protect the streamed content. Participants landed in an interactive virtual lobby which gamified the experience with trivia contests, building excitement prior to the film’s debut. The private watch party format proved highly engaging for attendees while capturing valuable viewer analytics, setting the stage for expanded offerings.

This successful test run gave Sundance the confidence to pursue a much grander vision - migrating their entire January film festival to a feature-rich virtual platform capable of hosting online premières, scheduling screenings worldwide, facilitating audience discussion forums, and replicating the energy of a premier artistic festival destination for lovers of independent film.

Solution Strategy by Anshar labs

With just 6 months in hand to go live into the first ever digital festival and 4 months to Festival Program Guide launch, Anshar Labs laid out a comprehensive and expeditious plan with resources, an agile delivery framework, and integration roadmap.

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Team

The delivery team comprised of 20 resources with teams designed for four specific areas of engagement.

The functional roles and technical skills were as follows:

  • Project Manager: Responsible for overall project management and delivery
  • Lead Technical Architect: Responsible for application workflow design, core engineering and code deployment
  • Team Leads: Responsible for managing resources and code delivery across all of the above 4 areas
  • QA Manager: Leading the Quality Control and Testing of all facets and modules in the application - front end, services, integrations with third parties,
  • Core Skills Employed: HTML/CSS/JavaScript, React, Node, MongoDB, AWS
  • Core Skills Employed: HTML/CSS/ JavaScript, React, Node, MongoDB, AWS
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Project Delivery Framework

Anshar utilized an agile software methodology with 1-week sprints to deliver features fast. Cross-functional teams organized work using Kanban boards while product owners played a hybrid role conveying business needs for conversion into technical requirements. Tight feedback loops ensured alignment on acceptance criteria between product and engineering. Code was deployed first to Staging-1 for user testing then Staging-2 prepping for release. Weekly scrums enabled collaboration and surfacing of blockers early.

The rapid iterative process facilitated continuous integration and delivery of working software. Laser focus aligned all teams to milestone demos containing planned capabilities signed-off by the client. This structured execution powered the rapid 5-month transformation into a polished end-to-end platform for Sundance’s online festival debut.

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Technical Solutions

Film Catalog and Ticketing System

A custom web-based (mobile optimized) film catalog and ticketing portal provided the gateway for attendees to browse movies, create personal schedules, purchase passes/tickets and manage their plans. Integration with Stripe facilitated payment processing. This combination allowed dynamic packaging/pricing of multiple ticket products tied directly to validated attendee accounts.

Screening Platform

The video streaming technology underpinning the online festival was engineered with an end-to-end integration of a streamer with enhanced content protections. Forensic watermarking at the codec level imprinted unique viewer codes into the decoded video output for tracing pirated copies back to the source account. Hardened DRM enforcement required passing encrypted session credentials during stream initialization further locking down access. The player experience provided filmmakers granular controls over permissions, subtitles, captioning etc. while gathering aggregated playback analytics.

Security Measures

Maintaining ironclad security across all aspects of the platform was central toward earning the trust of Sundance’s partners. That mandated not just bulletproof streaming but also hardy defenses across exposed attack surfaces. Measures included mandatory HTTPS traffic, role-based access controls, layered infrastructure firewalls, intrusion detection systems, regular 3rd party penetration testing, rapid patch management and more. Staff underwent rigorous cybersecurity training as well since attackers frequently target human weak points. The multilayered regimen delivered best-in-class protections allowing film debuts free of piracy concerns.

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balancing A complex
collaboration

Orchestrating Sundance’s online shift demanded tight coordination across a mosaic of technology partners, each handling critical platform components. Anshar Labs served as the central driver responsible for integrating surrounding systems into a cohesive digital experience. This multiparty dance balancing project scope, priorities and timelines posed an organizational test.

Service teams like cloud infrastructure (DevOps), security auditing and payment providers performed specialized roles augmented by Sundance’s core software stack and needs. Navigating this decentralized web of collaboration across the 5-month crunch challenged Anshar’s leadership to align contributions into a unified solution. The multifaceted nature of film festival demands amplified complexity - video delivery, event scheduling, access control, customer service, marketing content and more. Juggling in parallel these technical work streams along with the creative needs of Sundance while meeting inflexible deadlines forced extremely disciplined execution.

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The platform

Anshar designed and created an interconnected system comprising 7 individual sites and portals:

  • 1. Festival Guide - An interactive schedule and film catalog for attendees
  • 2. Ticketing portal - For selecting, purchasing and managing passes, packages, and tickets
  • 3. Video streaming site - Playing films securely during scheduled screening windows
  • 4. Backstage admin portal - Managing films, events, attendees and more
  • 5. Marketing portal - Curating how films are presented and promoted
  • 6. Analytics site - Providing engagement and performance metrics
  • 7. Payment systems - Integrating ticketing with Stripe and NetSuite

Additionally, the viewing technology facilitated both direct streaming and connections to 3rd party OTT platforms depending on the distribution strategy. Robust DRM protection and forensic watermarking ensured content security and prevent piracy. The entire platform leveraged cloud infrastructure to scale on demand to accommodate extreme traffic spikes. DevOps team and application architect co-designed the entire back-end MongoDB Atlas availability alongside EC2, ECS, dynamic load balancer, and Redis (for watch party chat rooms before screenings started). User load during key event milestones were managed through Cloudwatch and other third party tools.

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Timeline 2020-2021

Jun-Jul
timeline

Boys State
1st Pivot

  • A beta project-space launched
  • Initial bespoke streaming player
  • Invitation only
  • Phase 1 of CMS created
timeline

Boys State 1st Pivot

  • A beta project-space launched
  • Initial bespoke streaming player
  • Invitation only
  • Phase 1 of CMS created
Aug-Sep
timeline

Press &
Industry
Onboarding

  • Press and Industry interface launched
  • Registration & account creation enabled
  • Back end user management in place
timeline

Press &
Industry Onboarding

  • Press and Industry interface launched
  • Registration & account creation enabled
  • Back end user management in place
Oct
timeline

Festival
Homepage

  • Festival homepage goes live
  • Homepage content managed from CMS
  • Player integration kicks off
timeline

Festival
Homepage

  • Festival homepage goes live
  • Homepage content managed from CMS
  • Player integration kicks off
Nov-Dec

Festival
Program
Guide

  • Festival Program Guide goes live
  • Thousands of DAUs hits the digital site
timeline

Festival
Program
Guide

  • Festival Program Guide goes live
  • Thousands of DAUs hits the digital site
Jan

Public Sale
Festival Launch

timeline
  • Festival goes live
  • All player encryptions with DRM and forensic enablement launched
timeline

Public Sale
Festival
Launch

  • Festival goes live
  • All player encryptions with DRM and forensic enablement launched

In their own words

The miracles you have performed to get us to Opening night with the platform performing wonderfully is absolutely remarkable. I know you each have given up so much of your personal life and SLEEP over the past many months, and I cannot thank you enough. Witnessing your herculean efforts I am reminded why I love the mission of Sundance Institute “we are dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its programs, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film, media, and theater artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work.” Your unbelievable patience and creative ingenuity are a vivid reminder that you too artists and the platform is your proof. Your development “voices” are a vital part of how Sundance Institute can showcase filmmakers and their “voices” to the world. I am humbly thankful.

The miracles you have performed to get us to Opening night with the platform performing wonderfully is absolutely remarkable. I know you each have given up so much of your personal life and SLEEP over the past many months, and I cannot thank you enough. Witnessing your herculean efforts I am reminded why I love the mission of Sundance Institute: “we are dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its programs, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film, media, and theater artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work.”

Your unbelievable patience and creative ingenuity are a vivid reminder that you too artists and the platform is your proof. Your development “voices” are a vital part of how Sundance Institute can showcase filmmakers and their “voices” to the world. I am humbly thankful.

Betsy Wallace, MD & CFO

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Results
& Impact

In just 6 months, Anshar Labs delivered a polished, fully functional virtual Sundance Film Festival platform that exceeded expectations:

  • More than 250,000 film streams served digitally over 7 days
  • Over 100,000 shopping cart transactions processed
  • Supported peak traffic of over 22,000 concurrent viewers
  • Achieved best-in-class security protocols for stream protection
  • Reduced infrastructure costs via serverless architecture model

Most importantly, the online shift expanded Sundance’s reach and accessibility globally during a pandemic year when the land based festival couldn’t launch. Compared to previous years, overall festival attendance (digital viewing) grew over 300%.

For Anshar Labs, completing such a pioneering achievement in record time demonstrated their technical expertise and innovative spirit when rising to meet extraordinary challenges. The software and workflow innovations pioneered at Sundance can now be extended to future implementations of world-class digital experiences for arts, culture and entertainment.

At a glance

+

Points of
Integration

+

Code Modules
Deployed

K+

Tickets
Sold

K

Streams
Served

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Conclusion

When the COVID-19 crisis threatened to force cancellation of the internationally renowned Sundance Film Festival, Anshar Labs boldly stepped forward to make the impossible possible – migrating the entire event to an online format in less than 6 months despite immense obstacles. The resulting cutting-edge platform delivered over a quarter million film streams to over 300,000 global viewers, setting new records for digital experience delivery at scale. Both Sundance and Anshar Labs emerged stronger, prouder and confident taking on the world’s biggest stages.

Find out how

Anshar Labs can create solutions for you!

Contact Anshar Labs
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