Over the past few years, the post-production house has picked up an Oscar and staked out a position near the top of the UK industry tree. Now it's turning its attention to taking commercials production into the e-mail age -and it might just shake up the advertising industry in the process.
Beam.tv, which started life as The Mill's eMill department, allows clients to review and approve elements of work in progress over the internet, saving time and money on tape transfers and courier costs. This works in one of two ways - either the client uses a fast internet connection to watch the relevant clips as QuickTime files over the web or, when high quality footage is required, the relevant data is transferred as mpeg2 files to one of Beam.tv's 54 worldwide partner facilities, recorded back on to tape and delivered by local courier. A simple system and one that almost all users have nothing but praise for.
"It's been a godsend, Andy Gulliman, the senior producer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says. Gulliman used Beam.tv on the Levi's "twist and "odyssey and Xbox "prophecy commercials. "I can be viewing a cut here in London and then have it sent to John Hegarty in New York. He can look at it while I'm tucked up in bed and give me his comments early in the morning. It means we can be working on something 24 hours a day."
A number of companies have attempted to cash in on the increasingly international nature of the advertising production business by offering a managed service for the guaranteed delivery of large video files over the internet. But Beam.tv differs from the pack in that agencies do not need a subscription to use the service - with managed connections costing anything up to £3,000 a month, the savings to companies who don't need to use the service every day are very real. "That's the beauty of it, Barmer enthuses. "Beam.tv operates on a pay-as-you-use basis. We don't need to sell Beam.tv to the managing director of an agency before a producer can use it."
With its initial offering already being referred to as an "industry standard", Beam.tv is looking to expand into the online archive business. If it gets this move right, and it seems to have a good idea of where it's going and how it's getting there, Beam.tv could soon be the single largest global repository of completed commercials.
Last year, Beam.tv introduced the Beam Box, a set-top box which works like a hard disk personal video recorder. When connected to the Beam.tv website it allows agencies to keep a digital store of all their commercials, making them instantly available to offices world-wide. Leo Burnett, WCRS and BBH are among the agencies storing and sharing completed work this way already, and Saatchi & Saatchi is set to buy into the service across its 155 offices.
"What we're looking at for the agency is having a TV library that is globally accessible, Mark Hanrahan, Saatchis' head of TV, says. "It's important that wherever our work is produced we can make it available to the rest of the Saatchis network the day it's finished."
Traditionally, that would mean a tape transfer, then a courier, then a pause as the tape sat in customs for three days. And with one Umatic costing around £250 to record and send, the £125 monthly rental fee for each set-top box is, in Hanrahan's words, a "no-brainer".
"The archive is by far our biggest ambition, Barmer says. "The review and approval is very exciting and very sexy and it really is functionality that our clients want, but we aim to be the de facto method for storing commercials online."
Beam.tv has between 35 and 40 per cent of current UK ads on its website.
In the coming months, working alongside Thomson Intermedia, Beam.tv will offer the opportunity to monitor competing clients' media schedules and creative work at a vastly reduced cost. Such competitive monitoring will be dependent on copyright issues and the co-operation of Thompson in providing schedules and non-TV work.
"It has started snowballing, Barmer says. "We've sounded clients out.
We're working on a deal with Thomson whereby clients can purchase non-broadcast material as part of the Beam. tv site. That's going to persuade the other agencies to use it for archive and if they don't it doesn't matter because we can plug that gap using Thomson's data."