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Solution Based on Windows Mobile Helps Film Exhibitors Stay Organized and Responsive

At the annual American Film Market (AFM), buyers from more than 70 countries attend nearly a thousand screenings. Exhibitors need to follow up on opportunities as quickly as possible, so AFM organizers needed a way to report who attends the numerous screenings. Working with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner 2B Solutions, AFM now has a fully functional mobile attendance tracking solution based on Windows Mobile that allows AFM staff members to scan attendee badges and capture attendance data. As a result, exhibitors can respond faster to interested distributors.

The American Film Market is the largest film industry event in North America. In just eight days, more than $800 million in deals are sealed. Presented by the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), AFM connects film producers with distributors from around the world. AFM participants may view more than 900 screenings of approximately 500 films, 31 new films every two hours, the majority of which are world or U.S. premieres.

In order to negotiate rights, film sellers and distributors need immediate access to information about the buyers who attend their screenings. Speed is essential, according to Andrea Keldsen, Manager, AFM Operations & Exhibitor Services. “Our show creates an auction environment,” she explains. “The sooner sellers have the information, the sooner they can act on it.” AFM organizers must capture detailed attendance information for each of the screenings and make it available to sellers as quickly as possible.

Previously, exhibitors used such ad hoc methods as collecting business cards at the entrance to gain information about the distributors’ representatives who attended their screenings. Such processes were prone to loss and difficult for exhibitors to organize and use.

“We didn’t have a way of telling our exhibitors who was coming to their screenings, Keldsen explains, “not without disrupting the smooth flow of buyers in and out of screenings We wanted to capture detailed information about the attendees while not slowing them down. We also needed to be able to provide this information to our exhibitors within hours.”

AFM Exceeds Customer Expectations with Incrementally Improved Mobile Services

In 2005, aware that its exhibitors needed to know who was in their screenings within minutes, AFM decided to pursue a mobile attendance tracking solution to provide the highest level of service. At first, AFM tried to address the challenges internally. “We started with simple Microsoft® Excel spreadsheets to track participants,” Keldsen explains. Soon, though, AFM engaged 2B Solutions, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, to provide a fully functional mobile attendance tracking solution. “When we decided to move into electronic tracking, 2B Solutions was one of only a few companies that could provide us with the service and flexibility we needed,” Keldsen says.

Working with 2B, AFM implemented 2B-Events, a mobile application based on Windows Mobile, that allows AFM staff to scan bar-coded attendee badges and capture attendance data using scanners powered by Windows Mobile.

Mobile devices rented from Cellhire enable information transfer from the mobile scanners to a Web service over the T-Mobile cellular network, which provides up-to-date attendance reporting to exhibitors via the Web within minutes after each screening. In addition, AFM’s Web site added a Web service to accept data transferred from the mobile devices, which host and display data via a password protected Web portal.

Incremental Improvements Keep Mobile Solution on the Leading Edge

Beginning in 2005, the 2B-Events mobile application has been used for every AFM and every time it is used, 2B and AFM work together closely to continue improving the system. The initial deployment stages included a business process analysis, application development, solution testing, vendor relations and go-live preparation. During the business process analysis, developers at 2B determined what information needed to be imported into 2B-Events, including attendee ID and screening data, such as name, date, time, and location. Because logistical information about the screenings changes throughout the day, the screening data needs to be updated multiple times daily.

An in-depth analysis of AFM’s back-end exhibitor and attendee databases was performed as well, and after a complete analysis was performed, the application development began. 2B-Events was developed using Microsoft® Visual Studio® 2005, which is supported by 2.5 million developers worldwide with Windows Mobile software tools. Development also included Microsoft® SQL Server Mobile Edition and the .NET Compact Framework, which helped to simplify deployment. back-end exhibitor and attendee databases.

Because 2B-Events was designed for Windows Mobile, it has the tools and functionality that allow for integration of SQL Server Mobile Edition with other Microsoft SQL Servers and Web services. This integration was key to the project’s success, because the data captured on the handheld is practically useless unless integrated with AFM’s back-end exhibitor and attendee databses.

The initial hardware consisted of approximately 35 mobile devices with Socket scanners used to scan attendee badges. Mobile devices transfer the data to a Web server using the T-Mobile cell network. The data was then matched to the back-end data using Web services developed by 2B. The result was an almost instantaneous list of the people who attended each screening. Initial solution testing was used to analyze overall performance and functionality, assess the mobie application scanner’s ability to read barcodes created by AFM’s attendee database, and verify data transfer. Prior to shipping the initial 30+ devices for AFM 2005, 2B pre-loaded them with 2B-Events and changed settings that would make using the device easier (removed non-used icons, set the scan button, created a backup, etc.). The developers also provided and easy-to-use interface, so minimal time was needed to train the users.

Lessons Learned Lead to Improved Mobile Attendance Tracking

The goal for the 2005 show, to have a way to capture who viewed speciic films, was accomplished. However, one problem from 2005 was the result of trying to use a Socket SD Imager scanner in poorly lit theaters. The scanner was not suitable for the dark environment and caused frustration to both badge scanning staff and attendees. Another weakness was the time needed for film exhibitors to receive attendance reports. Each night, AFM staff brought all the devices to onsite 2B staff members, who physically cradled each device to a laptop and transferred the data to a local database. Then 2B ran software to match the data captured on the mobile devices to two separate databases for reporting. Reports were then generated using Crystal Reports and emailed the following day in PDF format to a single representative for each film. There was no centralized way for the film exhibitors to view and share the report. If producers had any issues accessing email, 2B had to manually print and hand deliver the report.

The team significantly enhanced the solution for 2006 with three major areas of improvement: barcode scanner was replaced with a Socket CF laser scanner, which 2B found was able to scan a barcode in a closet with no lights or windows. 2B also eliminated the need to manually dock and transfer data from each device: data is now transferred directly to the secure Web server using the T-Mobile cell network.

Minor, incremental changes have continued each year. During the 2008 event, AFM began supplementing the older HP/Socket devices (running Windows Mobile 2003) with the Opticon H16, which has a built-in scanner. Today, exhibitors can view an online attendance report displayed via a secure Web server, including information about how long attendees expect to be in town following the screening, which helps exhibitors to prioritize follow up. Using the online reports, exhibitors with multiple screenings can also determine attendance trends, which helps with planning future events. For the 2009 event and future AFMs, the developers plan to continue to upgrade the solution to take advantage of devices running more recent versions of Windows Mobile.

“Prior to implementing 2B-Events we manually counted heads and tracked attendance on pieces of paper. When we decided to move into electronic tracking, 2B Solutions was one of the only few companies that could provide us with the service and flexibility we needed.”

Andrea Keldsen
Manager, AFM Operations & Exhibitor
Services Independent Film & Television Alliance

“We chose 2B Solutions and their proposed solution because of speed, ease of use, ease of implementation, level of intrusiveness for the attendee, cost, amount of information captures, and the amount of staff time expended for the final result,” AFM Operations Manager Copil Yanez explains. “We were able to work with one vendor during AFM on programming, data management, equipment testing, form generation, staff training, etc., and the worked with the required vendors to test and deliver the solution.”

“Our first year we were cautious about what we could provide to our attendees,” Keldsen notes. “However, working with 2B we were able to upgrade the service a lot quicker than we had originally thought. 2B sends one team member to be with us onsite for the duration of the show to provide immediate technical support. They’ve observed our habits and procedures and suggested ways to streamline our processes. Many of the suggestions were implemented immediately, and the more difficult ones were incorporated into the program the following year. We are very pleased with the product and service that has been provided over these three years and are glad to have 2B Solutions as a part of our team.”

Mobile Solution Differentiates AFM by Helping Exhibitors Respond to Opportunities Faster

The 2B-Events application allows AFM exhibitors to easily stay on top opportunities. The improved information access means exhibitors can respond faster to buyers because they have access to complete attendee information via a single data repository. “Producers can look at the list of people who attended their screenings and follow up immediately afterward,” says Keldsen. Because exhibitors can access information about attendees online, the mobile solution has also reduces some operating costs related to printing paper reports, and its has freed exhibitors from the need to collect and organize business cards.

2B-Events also makes it easy for the event organizers to keep attendee tracking details in sync with a screening schedule that is constantly in flux, “We have 31 films screening every two hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Many times, a film may be cancelled or changed.

Our first year, when changes were made, the devices had to be updated manually, but now hen a change is made on our schedule, it automatically gets updated on the handheld without that handheld needing to be reprogrammed. The solution’s ease or use also carries distinct advantages. “Part of the service I like from 2B Solutions is they not only provide the equipment and the software, but the service,” says Keldsen. “They actually have someone who comes out and does the training for us. We employ seasonal staff and maybe a quarter return each year. Those who come back a whole year later pick it back up very quickly. Also we’re comfortable with the solution because it’s not overwhelming.”