Why the M&E Technology Stack is Ripe for Disruption

The pace of technological change is accelerating January 14, 2016

This article is the first in a series dedicated to examining the intersection of technology, innovation and evolving protocols and formats within the media and entertainment industry.

The media industry is often perceived as the gateway to the imagination – yet I believe creativity and perception are intimately entwined. Today, video formats and shiny graphical interfaces permeate virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives, used as a source for our family’s entertainment, for educational programming in schools, for broadcast communication and within social media streams around the globe. As our world’s attention shifts towards online and multimedia content, the impact on the fields of technology are profound and wide-reaching.

With every mouse click, news clip view, music download and movie stream, the demands on reliable data storage and bandwidth continue to increase exponentially. In 2014, EMC announced in its seventh EMC Digital Universal study that data is outpacing storage. The study found that in 2013, the available storage capacity could hold just 33 percent of the digital universe. By 2020, it will be able to store less than 15 percent. The statistics for bandwidth demand reflect a similar surge with Aryaka’s “State of the Enterprise WAN 2015” study stating that North America’s bandwidth demand grew a mean 190 percent over the past year.

Just flipping on the television, it’s natural to use words like “fast-paced” and “glamorous” to describe the world of media and entertainment. Until recently, the same could not be said of the media and entertainment technology, which is typically thought of as a conservative, relatively stagnant world that’s been resistant to change, even as the times demanded it. My 17 years in the entertainment business both as a tech guy in the movie business and as a movie guy in the tech business have offered the opportunity to explore opposite ends of the media spectrum and understand the demands on technology within this fast-paced industry. In my role as CTO of media and entertainment at EMC, I’m now operating on all four cylinders, exploring technologies that are poised to disrupt the industry as we know it.

Accelerating Format Shifts

This is an industry where film technology lasted 100 years; high-definition video was only introduced in the last 30 years; and television technology has gone mostly untouched for 70 years. However, that’s all changing now. We’ve seen standard definition video shift to high definition video in the US in 15 years, with UHD technology, and a move from coax to IP quickly approaching. The previously slow-moving world of media and entertainment technology is in for a seismic shift with these, and new disruptive technologies on the horizon.

The stack below will serve as the basis for my upcoming blog series examining the migration from HD-SDI infrastructure to IP networks and storage, file-based workflow and UHD’s role as the stalking horse that will allow media to become more fluid than we ever thought possible. The posts will also address the obstacles these innovations must overcome before widespread integration can be achieved and demonstrate the cumulative nature of these technologies.

Fig. 1 shows an example of post-production VFX technology to illustrate how the stack works.
Click on the Image to Enlarge

At the bottom, you have power, cabling and cooling which is the fundamental infrastructure layer. Over time, innovation migrates up the stack which are listed here as the networking, technical infrastructure, traditional IT services, 2D/3D packages and the render pipeline. At the top is the workflow achieved, or the renderers. Once a technology has become settled and is no longer considered an innovation, it gets turned into an appliance, protocol or standard and sinks back down the stack.

Take cooling, power and cabling technologies, for example. When these technologies first made their debut, they disrupted the players in the stack above them. As innovations moves up the stack, they influence the entire stack, before settling at the bottom, becoming the basis for future innovations and disruptions.

The true innovation and true disruption comes from when you start re-evaluating and redefining those bottom layers. This blog series will examine technologies in M&E as they move up the stack, disrupting existing technologies and revolutionizing an industry previously thought of as resistant to change. 

Tom (T.V.)Burns is the CTO of Media and Entertainment for EMC. 

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