Q&A: Blu Digital Group’s Paulette Pantoja Discusses the Founding and Growth of the Company

CEO Paulette Pantoja founded Blu Digital Group in 2007, focusing on quality control for film and TV content distributed on physical media. The company has since created proprietary workflows and patented applications as a solution for content owners and platforms to deliver streaming content. Pantoja’s expansion of the localization division within Blu in 2021 further broadened the company’s ability to deliver international content to audiences around the world.

After working at Ascent Media and Panasonic Hollywood Labs, Pantoja set up Blu Digital as the first dedicated Blu-ray Disc testing facility. In 2015, she evolved the business to provide content services for the digital media supply chain, leveraging Blu’s cloud-based automation software for content distribution to broadcasters and OTT platforms. In 2017, Blu began licensing its software to give clients control and visibility of their content preparation and distribution workflows. The company now also provides localization services and ad-insertion technology. Since its founding, Blu Digital Group has reached more than 300 million viewers, provided media services for more than 25 film and TV titles recognized by the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards, and has serviced 3 million content hours. Blu has been recognized as one of the Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in the United States for 2021 and 2022, and Pantoja is an Ernst & Young Greater Los Angeles Entrepreneur of The Year 2022 finalist.

Media Play News asked Pantoja — who this year is also being honored with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s Hedy Lamarr Award for Innovation in Entertainment — about the history of her company and what’s next for the industry and Blu Digital.

MPN: Can you tell us about the history of Blu Digital Group?

Pantoja: I founded Blu in 2007 as a services company, providing quality assurance services (QA) for film and TV content, as well as consumer electronics products and technologies. I set the business up on my own, out of my apartment, using just my credit card to fund the business.

I credit my initial success to spotting gaps in the market, forming strategic alliances, and applying efficiencies to workflows. While I was working for Panasonic, I saw a lot of inefficiencies used in the QA processes of testing Blu-ray discs and realized there was an opportunity to implement software testing methodologies.

I left my job at Panasonic to set up the first dedicated Blu-ray testing facility and gained the interest of THX, George Lucas’s soundtrack recording and reproduction subsidiary. I pitched a strategic alliance with THX to outsource their THX certification, enabling me to fund my business and turn a profit in my first year with Warner Bros., Fox and Deluxe as clients. I then productized the world’s first online reporting system for Blu-ray and patented the product in 2012.

In 2015, I evolved the business to provide content services for the digital media supply chain, leveraging Blu’s cloud-based automation software for content distribution to broadcasters and OTT platforms. In 2017, I began licensing its software to give clients control and visibility of their content preparation and distribution workflows.

After securing series A funding in 2020, I have been able to build my management team, attracting key talent and taking the business to the next level of growth.

MPN: What services does the company offer?

Pantoja: Blu Digital Group is one of the leading media service providers in the industry today. The business is a premier end-to-end digital media solutions company empowering distributors to easily process and deliver their film and TV content by using Blu’s services and custom-tailored cloud-based software. The company’s mission is to continually innovate better ways to prepare, process and deliver media content so Blu can empower distributors and video platforms with tools and services that will help them share their stories with global audiences.

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MPN: You’re being honored with this year’s Hedy Lamarr award from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. What are your thoughts on the honor and the progress of women in the industry?

Pantoja: I strive to build a culture of innovation and inclusion at Blu Digital, and the DEG is helping to do that on an industry level with these awards recognizing women, who have traditionally been underrepresented in media technology. The pace of technology is always evolving, and I am honored to accept this recognition of Blu’s dedication to developing better and more efficient media management workflows.

MPN: As a home entertainment industry veteran, how do you see the evolution of the business, from disc to digital? How have the challenges and opportunities changed with the formats and how have they remained the same?

Pantoja: As the industry has evolved from disc to digital, we have gone through a plethora of different standards and automation opportunities. What has remained the same is the core service we provide — providing a streamlined service to entertainment companies enabling them to focus on their core services of creating content. Throughout the evolution of delivery methods, whether on a physical piece of plastic or a digital file, we have always strived to utilize the latest technology to streamline the process.

MPN: What’s next for Blu Digital?

Pantoja: We are on an aggressive projection of growth along with the rest of the media and entertainment industry. We are using our funding to make strategic acquisitions to build services and grow into new territories while refining our products and services for our existing clients.

Q&A: Premiere Digital’s Michele Edelman Discusses the Company and Her Two Decades in Home Entertainment

Michele Edelman is head of growth at Premiere Digital, a media services and software solutions company. With more than 20 years of executive experience and extensive knowledge of home entertainment, Edelman has been at the forefront of an evolving OTT landscape, from launching TVOD/EST programs at Warner Bros., to spearheading VOD strategies at Vubiquity, to redefining distribution at Premiere Digital.

Before joining Premiere Digital, she served as EVP of marketing and content strategy at Vubiquity, where she oversaw global execution of cross-departmental marketing, corporate communications and creative strategy, as well as the management and merchandising of premium content. Prior to that, she was worldwide VP at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, where she oversaw a variety of departments, including direct-to-consumer marketing, digital distribution marketing, programming and acquisitions.  Her work includes sales and marketing campaigns for some of the world’s biggest studios, including ESPN, Disney and MTV Networks, as well as cross-industry initiatives to promote the growth of emerging digital formats. In October of 2019, Michele joined Premiere Digital to focus on the company’s mission of helping its customers monetize content and streamline operations, as well as on its vision of positioning itself for the ongoing future of digital distribution.

Media Play News asked Edelman about her company’s game plan and about the direction of a home entertainment industry she has been a part of for more than two decades.

MPN: Can you tell us about the history of Premiere Digital and what services it offers?

Edelman: Premiere Digital was founded in 2008 by Erik Anderson who was on the original iTunes video distribution team. We currently have three production facilities located in Los Angeles, Stamford, Conn., and Bangalore, India, and a satellite sales office in Toronto. Erik always had vision and realized the digital supply chain could be “smarter,” so he started Premiere Digital. 

Erik also happened to be my client while I was at Warner Bros. and when he called me to welcome me to Premiere his number came up with the Apple/iTunes co. I felt like I shot back 10 years while at the same time was moving ahead 10.

MPN: Premiere last year launched its first title The Wall. What’s the strategy for getting into content distribution, what other titles has Premiere launched and what others are in the works?

Edelman: The amount of content that does not make it to the marketplace is staggering. Tons of films and TV shows are made and never seen by an audience. We’re giving those projects a chance at making it to screens and aggregating on behalf of the content makers to the marketplace. This project started back in 2019 and The Wall was the first big one to date. We plan to do a number of these a year. One other successful TV show that was distributed by us was “The Chosen” that performed so well on digital platforms, the production company created a season two.

MPN: Premiere has been a champion for women in technology. What steps have you and the company taken to make it a welcoming environment for women and how does it affect company strategy?

Edelman: Premiere is a champion of people and many of them happen to be women. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m skirting the issue but we truly are champions of people and do our part to participate where the need is. For example, we go above and beyond in the social awareness category almost every month, changing our logos color to reflect a necessary cause and making donations where we can. LGBTQ+, Breast Cancer Awareness, Black History, Hispanic Heritage … the list goes on. WiTH is also part of this donation to support Women in Technology in Hollywood. So, to support your statement, we champion women, minorities and whoever needs additional support.

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MPN: As a home entertainment industry veteran, how do you see the evolution of the business, from its early days on VHS to disc to today’s business models What kind of smart tools do companies need to thrive in a constantly evolving digital ecosystem?

Edelman: I love this topic and feel proud to have been on the ground floor of the physical to digital entertainment shift. It was exciting to see how the industry pulled together and then the market just evolved as a result. It was the people that spearheaded it with the original transactional platforms … cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Playstation and now today it’s pretty much all we know. What sensational times.

MPN: Speaking of this evolution, what kind of smart tools do companies need to thrive in a constantly evolving digital ecosystem?

Edelman: We probably need better tools that manage all assets whether they be video, artwork, languages, data, promos, even text in one location so that companies can build their assets for global distribution. We spend a lot of time looking for components in multiple locations so a central point that includes all asset elements would be the pie in the sky. An individual film title goes live globally with various languages, metadata, promotional assets and creative elements for advertising. Multiple teams develop and store assets in multiple locations. Multiple individuals have access for various reasons in multiple languages. A central location for everything would make everything easier for everyone.

Preserving Film History and ‘The Sheik’: A Conversation With Paramount Archivist Andrea Kalas

SVP of archives Andrea Kalas leads asset management at Paramount Pictures and has a long career in preserving films. Prior to joining Paramount, she was head of preservation at the British Film Institute, digital studio director for Discovery Communications, archivist for DreamWorks SKG and preservationist and research data expert at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the Science and Technology Council where she chairs the committee on digital preservation.

Andrea Kalas

At Paramount, she has been cleaning up the classics for release in the home entertainment market. Most recently, her team restored 1921’s The Sheik, one of the seminal films of silent era starring the legendary Rudolph Valentino. The film is available Nov. 2 as part of the “Paramount Presents” Blu-ray Disc line for its 100th anniversary. Media Play News editor in chief Stephanie Prange asked Kalas about the difficulties and rewards of restoring such classics.

MPN: My grandfather, I recall, idolized Rudolph Valentino. Can you discuss his relevance and the position of The Sheik in the history of Hollywood and filmmaking?

Kalas: Rudolph Valentino is well worth idolizing. His importance to film history is monumental.  He was not only a brilliant performer, but he was a lightning rod for a cultural change that is hard to see from 100 years later. In today’s eyes, we might frown at a white guy passing for Middle Eastern but in the 1920s he was seen as “foreign” and “dark.” He was in many ways the first superstar, his style and legendary sensuality transcending the films he was in. Sometimes that meant controversy — many journalists of the time openly questioned his masculinity, maybe because so many women adored everything about him. He connected with the camera — he looks right at it as if it were the object of his affection. It’s hard to think of other performers since who had this incredible ability.

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MPN: Please describe the elements Paramount used to restore The Sheik and how they were obtained.

Kalas: Original camera negatives are rarely extant for silent films, unfortunately. We were grateful for a print loaned to us by Film Preservation Associates. We used that for the intertitles. We also had a fine-grain (a black and white intermediary element) that we used for the picture. We also had an original continuity script that told us timing and specific color information for the tinting.

MPN: Were there any particularly difficult scenes/sequences to restore?

Kalas: The fine-grain element had been “stretch printed” — a way to bring the silent frames-per-second speed to the standard one of 24. We needed to digitally unstretch it back to the original 22 frames per second to represent how the film was meant to be seen.

MPN: What is Paramount’s strategy in restoring classic films such as The Sheik?

Kalas: Paramount is dedicated to film preservation and restoration, and the most important priority is the condition of the films. Our top priority is making sure we preserve the films so films like The Sheik can be enjoyed when it’s 200 years old.

MPN: Can you describe a particularly hard film/scene that you and your team have restored in your career?

Kalas: Our restoration of the 1927 film Wings, the first Best Picture [Oscar] winner, had a very compromised picture element that had printed-in nitrate deterioration among other issues. The work to restore that took enormous amounts of frame-by-frame work, with tools usually used for special effects. We’re very proud of the result, which is paired with a completely re-recorded and re-mixed original silent score. [Paramount Home Entertainment March 23 released Wings as part of a “Best Picture Essentials 10-Movie Collection.”]