Oct. 20, 2011
By Luke Baynes
It’s called Subatomic Digital, but its capabilities and variety of services are far from minuscule.
Founded in 2006 by Vermont natives Bob DiVenuti and Matt Strauss, the Williston-based Subatomic Digital, Inc. is a digital media company that has produced more than 10,000 DVD titles, including the NBC hit “30 Rock,” The History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers” and countless PBS programs.
But Subatomic’s product offerings go far beyond the DVD and Blu-ray market. Its video-on-demand services provide streaming video to such on-demand providers as iTunes and Netflix, while its digital graphics customers include IBM and Ben & Jerry’s.
Subatomic can also count The New York Times among its clients. With every page of The Times going back to 1851 electronically stored on its servers, Subatomic is the exclusive provider of “The Ultimate Birthday Book,” which includes the front page of every birthday in a recipient’s life.
DiVenuti and Strauss recently sat down with the Observer for a round table discussion in which they talked about Subatomic’s past, present and future.
Williston Observer: Why did you choose Williston for your headquarters?
Bob DiVenuti: When we started the business, we were in Essex over in Fort Ethan Allen. As our business grew, we needed more space and we needed a more modern facility.
Matt Strauss: One thing we really liked about (Williston) was the proximity to FedEx, because we do a lot of shipping. And (Williston) is kind of a commercial hub in general, so I think it was really lucky that we were able to end up here. Coming to Williston has given us the latitude we need to go to the next level.
WO: What are your respective backgrounds?
Strauss: My background is a combination of different things. I’ve done a lot of graphics production, but also computers. I’ve actually built a lot of my own machines, so the background for me is technology and creative (projects).
DiVenuti: My background is television production. Then I got into television management, and when the DVD media came out, Matt and I really started working closely together — myself on the producing side, and Matt on the graphic design and technical side. We decided to start our own business almost six years ago.
WO: How has the digital media industry changed in those six years? How have you adapted?
DiVenuti: When we first started, standard-def DVD production was our bread and butter. We had a small print-on-demand business that has grown by leaps and bounds. On the DVD side of the business, we’ve ventured into the Blu-ray market, but now with download-to-own being so popular we take a lot of the content that we produce for DVD and digitize it and send it through the Internet directly to iTunes or Netflix.
WO: Do you think that video-on-demand services will ultimately supplant DVDs and Blu-rays as the primary form of home entertainment?
Strauss: The transition from VHS to DVD was very easy in that you still had a product that you could hold in your hand. I think there will always be a certain group that will always want something to hold, but I don’t know how many.
DiVenuti: Five years ago I thought standard-def DVD would have been dead by now, and honestly, our business doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. There are still stores that need that product on the shelves.
WO: What is the revenue breakdown between your business segments?
DiVenuti: When we started the business, it was about 70 percent DVD production and about 30 percent print-on-demand. Now I would say it’s about 40 percent DVD production, 20 percent digital media and 40 percent print-on-demand.
WO: Do you work with any Vermont filmmakers?
Strauss: We don’t do traditional post-production — people don’t come here to edit their films — but (Vermont filmmakers) do come here when their film is finished and they want to put it out there in the world. Or if they need something extra put in there, we’ve done title sequences and other graphical elements.
WO: How did your partnership with The New York Times develop?
Strauss: (The Times) approached me a long time ago — I think 2002 or 2003 — and they were just getting started with their print-on-demand operation. They asked about doing some poster-type work and I took it on. It was a very small amount of work, so other businesses weren’t interested because it just wasn’t big enough. We’ve always tried to provide the best customer service and product we can, so that allowed the (relationship) to grow into a pretty significant chunk of our business.
WO: Jigsaw puzzles are certainly the most incongruous among your lineup of products. Why did you start making puzzles?
Strauss: We’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles (for The Times) for about four years. They had a vendor overseas who was not very responsive and they asked if we could do it, so we figured out how to do it. We look for areas where the client has a need or could use improvement in, so we’re building a portfolio of capabilities that we can offer to all kinds of potential clients someday.