No printer? No problem!
How ZDF Studios GmbH is digitalizing its core business with the help of electronic signatures.
Employees: Approximately 160
Revenue: €82 million (2019)
A full range of digital capability within two months thanks to Adobe Acrobat Sign
Continue to manage royalty contracts during COVID-19
Introduce new digital tools
Adapt new technologies and structures to answer challenges faced by the highly fragmented volume business
Keeps business moving with digital document workflows using Adobe Acrobat Sign
Provides employees with tailored training on digital tools including the handling of electronic signatures
Manages tens of thousands of pieces of artwork and graphics in minutes using Adobe Experience Manager Assets
Providing a full range of digital capabilities with electronic signatures
Sometimes it just takes a gentle push to turn “I should” into “I need to”. As dramatic as the social, political, and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been, basement clear-outs have not been the only outcome of the drastic changes in the wake of lockdowns and contact restrictions. For many companies, the pandemic served as a catalyst to move forward with digital transformation efforts.
At ZDF Studios, the pandemic also served as a catalyst for improving the company’s extensive existing digitalization measures. The private-sector subsidiary of ZDF is responsible for selling international programs, the execution of numerous co-productions, the purchase of licenses for programs which are produced externally and broadcast on ZDF, as well as merchandising and marketing of ZDF’s own productions.
“Even though the pace of development of material has increased enormously over the past few years, contracts remain our core business,” explains Simon Zsebök, Vice President of Digital Innovation at ZDF Studios GmbH. “Our customers are license holders and licensors, both in Europe and across the world. When COVID-19 occurred, many partners — depending on the degree to which they were impacted and the regulations in place — were unable to sign documents in accordance with our applicable signature guidelines.” Not everyone has a printer at home, so how would they be able to sign contacts and keep the business running? For Simon Zsebök, the answer was obvious: by introducing electronic signatures.
"We chose Adobe Acrobat Sign because, among other things, its administration capabilities fit better with our specific usage scenarios. We were also won over by the rules on representation, and the ability to create signing groups and to make a clear separation between each group in general."
Vice President Digital Innovation, ZDF Studios GmbH
Despite distance, the global community is closing ranks
The ability to execute contracts digitally was a long-standing item on Zsebök’s wish list. The pandemic gave him the necessary nudge to address bringing on e-signatures. Signature processes that are entirely digital are not just a nice option: they are crucial for the company to be able to do business. “Without COVID-19 acting as a catalyst, there is a high chance that we still would not have realized how useful electronic signatures are, because it was number 23 on the list,” notes Zsebök. “The company is not averse to innovation. In actual fact, it’s the contrary.”
According to Zsebök, the fact that the topic of electronic signatures is often broached with reluctance is a cultural phenomenon that is highly specific to the German market — despite the ECJ having ruled that electronic signatures are just as legal as handwritten signatures on paper. “At the start of the pandemic, when we had to use a courier to send contracts to partners around the world and the signing of documents internally became more drawn-out and complicated, we made the decision to move to electronic signatures quickly,” explains Zsebök.
Once the decision was made, it only took three months for the company’s first contract to be executed electronically. “We started implementing electronic signatures in April 2020, and by June we had completed our first contract,” recalls Zsebök. “We chose Adobe Acrobat Sign because, among other things, its administration capabilities fit better with our specific usage scenarios. We were also won over by the rules on representation, and the ability to create signing groups and to make a clear separation between each group in general.” In addition, ZDF uses other Adobe solutions so ZDF Studios wanted to be positioned optimally in order to execute internal contracts as well.
“It was a great success for us to be able to get up to speed so quickly as well as having established another modern solution in the company. And electronic signatures also constitute a significant step in terms of enabling working remotely to be equivalent to working in the office, including beyond the current crisis. My personal wish is that e-signatures become our standard rather than just a nice alternative.”
Vice President Digital Innovation, ZDF Studios GmbH
The digital mindset is vital
Introducing new technology is not sufficient on its own. The addition of electronic signatures is an opportunity to optimize signature processes at ZDF Studios GmbH in general. “As a rule, at least six people are involved in every signature process: four of these are on the side of ZDF Studios GmbH, and two to four are on the side of the license holder or licensor,” explains Zsebök. “If we were to follow an analog signature process, all parties would sign one after the other. If external sales agents are also involved, the signature process may take several weeks.”
Because all parties can access the same document when applying their electronic signature using Adobe Acrobat Sign, it is not necessary to forward a file to the next person in order for them to sign. “On average, it currently takes just a few days for us to execute a contract using Adobe Acrobat Sign — in some cases, it’s a matter of hours,” says Zsebök. “Once the processes become routine and the partners have adjusted to the new procedure, I estimate that we will be processing the majority of contracts within a few hours.”
The central aim of Zsebök is to include all employees when establishing new tools and not to abandon them when it comes to using them. “Our Digital Innovation Department closely monitored the introduction of electronic signatures from the outset,” explains Zsebök. Among other things, they have employed a digital learning manager who not only trains employees on using Adobe Acrobat Sign, but has also recorded training videos about the digital tools used, which can be accessed by their colleagues if they have any questions. It is also crucial to remain flexible.
“At the beginning, I thought we might need just ten licenses,” says Zsebök. “I rarely underestimate something on such a large scale! Ultimately, based on how much we were taking advantage of our new digital workflows, we needed Adobe Acrobat Sign licenses for more than 90 colleagues.”
The legalities surrounding e-signatures were discussed for a long time so that a company signature policy could be adopted. “Put simply, it takes time to understand the different types of e-signatures, how they differ when, for example, an advanced e-signature is sufficient and for which contractual processes we would instead require a qualified signature which requires a certificate attached to the signature. In the latter case, further technical prerequisites had to be created, before topics related to export control laws were discussed and we had to ask ourselves whether to trade with companies which are on sanctions lists.”
As always, introducing a new technology was very much a case of “learning by doing”. “It was a great success for us to be able to get up to speed so quickly as well as having established another modern solution in the company,” says Zsebök. “Electronic signatures constitute a significant step in terms of enabling working remotely to be equivalent to working in the office, including beyond the current crisis. My personal wish is that e-signatures become our standard rather than just a nice alternative.”
“This is an absolutely mammoth task, because we are talking about tens of thousands of files. However, the hard work we put in will quickly pay off once reach this key milestone. For this reason, Adobe is already a key component of the overall digitalization strategy of ZDF Studios.”
Vice President Digital Innovation, ZDF Studios GmbH
The next objectives have been set
ZDF has additional digital transformation projects under way. “Linear TV programs are still the bread and butter of our business, and this will not change any time soon,” explains Zsebök. “However, the video on demand market (VoD) has grown rapidly in recent years, so naturally, we need and want to react to this by making our media supply chain more efficient.”
Where traditionally, ZDF Studios GmbH was intended strictly for negotiations with other media houses (i.e., B2B), direct contact with consumers is gradually coming to the fore. Although there are not yet any plans for a separate streaming platform for the German market, the app “Get.factual” is already being piloted in markets in the United Kingdom and United States.
Supplying VoD platforms is a complex volume business, and each manual workflow increases this complexity exponentially. Everyone knows and has seen the large number of graphics from the major streaming providers, but barely anyone wonders how they got there. The ZDF select distribution service is made up of approximately 6,000 titles, each of which requires a large number of graphics: series artwork, season artwork, episode thumbnails, character shots, and so on.
Since each VoD platform has its own specifications in terms of aspect ratio and the size of graphics, the images must be reformatted each time they are distributed. This includes more than ten thousand graphics that need to be selected from network drives, adapted by agencies, and delivered by service providers. This process is currently being optimized by ZDF Studios with the help of Adobe Experience Manager Assets. “The Digital Asset Management system, which is a highly structured metadata management system, enables us to smartly format the numerous episode images to be supplied instantaneously in accordance with the platform specifications stored in Adobe Experience Manager. We then send them digitally to the target address, all while adhering to the image dimensions required by the target platform,” notes Zsebök.
At present, the company is about to go live and is undergoing the data migration phase, and then all graphics related to sales will be migrated to Adobe Experience Manager. “This is an absolutely mammoth task, because we are talking about tens of thousands of files. However, the hard work we put in will quickly pay off once we reach this key milestone. For this reason, Adobe is already a key component of the overall digitalization strategy of ZDF Studios,” says Zsebök.
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