WASHINGTON—So many things have changed in the television industry in the last couple of decades, and the pace of change only seems to accelerate. What seemed highly unlikely five years ago becomes commonplace today, and producing content in the cloud is one of those things.
The acceptance of at least some new techniques and processes can be attributed to COVID-19, which overnight forced us to get things done without actually being in the same place. And “getting things done without actually being in the same place” could be the dictionary definition of cloud production.
If your only concession to COVID is to do an occasional Zoom meeting, you may get the impression that video in the cloud is convenient but nothing special. However, with production in the cloud, you can get the quality you want to get.
“It is no longer accurate to assume that a cloud-based production is of lesser quality,” said Martin Jolicoeur, director of product management for Grass Valley. “One of the things we have learned from being forced to work remotely is that cloud technology is capable of handling top-tier live events.”
Keep An Open Mind
Jolicoeur said that keeping an open mind—and an open system—is the way to build a successful cloud production strategy.
“The global pandemic forced us to adopt new ways of working,” he said. “This has expanded our range of possibilities: SDI, IP and cloud all have applications for which they are best suited, both in terms of production capability and cost. We need to master the entire range of production options so that we aren’t locked into a single model. By being open, we can ensure that we are applying the best business and operational model for every production that we do.”
Like so many things where the internet is concerned, what you can do in the cloud is mostly limited by your imagination. You could use production talent from anywhere there is an excellent, stable connection—which brings up the subject of what the concerns can be for creating a production workflow in the cloud.
“The cloud offers unique opportunities for production workflows, but it also adds some new challenges that need to be considered,” Chris Brähler, vice president of product at SDVI. “Connectivity and latencies are certainly factors that play a bigger role in a cloud-based environment than when everything is available ‘next-door’ on premise.”
Relearn Some Techniques
Those of us who grew up in the industry and learned our roles by actually handling physical equipment and cables need to relearn some techniques and processes that we thought were the basics of production workflow.
“Ensuring that the entire organization understands the strategy and the benefits that will accrue to them is probably the most important factor in determining success,” said Grass Valley’s Jolicoeur.
Getting your head around how assembling a production in the cloud is key to making it work for your organization. A look into one company’s product—SDVI’s Rally—is one example of cloud production workflow.
Rally can automate content verification and metadata enhancement processing, which can assist an operator in the production supply chain. This can include steps as typical as creating proxies or daily renders. Rally Access, available as a plugin for Adobe Premiere and accessible via browser using a cloud-services provider such as Accurate.Video, can be used to both edit content, and also to review and approve edits and sequences.
Sometimes it seems like you need a “spirit guide” to appreciate how cloud production can benefit your creative and distribution processes. If you step back and think about it, the benefits make sense.
“Designing a unifying workflow is key to getting your content accurately and securely distributed to all stages of production,” said Colin McDonald, product manager for cine products at Teradek.
The company’s Teradek Core is a control platform that allows productions to securely manage, distribute and collaborate with live camera feeds, instant proxy files for editorial, high-quality recordings for dailies, and low-latency HDR streams for post-production.
Using a hybrid cloud approach to media asset management is at the heart of Tedial’s introduction of its smartWork Media Integration Platform.
According to Julian Fernandez-Campon, Tedial CTO, “a hybrid-cloud architecture offers broadcasters the ability to move operations in-line with business objectives quickly while maintaining current systems in operation ensuring a low-risk transition into the cloud. Customers retain full control of their critical workflows and operations while benefiting from the latest cutting-edge cloud features, technologies and infrastructures.
“smartWork is based upon no-code architecture, follows Infrastructure as a Code (IaaC) and can be deployed on-premises, on any cloud or in a hybrid architecture seamlessly, allowing customers to integrate the more suitable systems for each deployment.”
Your Team Has the Skills
Just what sort of skills are needed to make all of this work? Look around at your team—it already has the skills.
“We worked with a group of top news and sports media companies to create cloud-native, microservice-based, media services,” said Paul Shen, CEO of TVU.
Shen said that one of these micro-applications is TVU Producer, a cloud-based live-production service. With its sync technology, the entire production team can all work from their home offices with their laptops and a normal home internet service. The application enables an audio engineer to have his own audio mixing panel and the video production engineer has his own live production panel.
All production crews can communicate with each other in real time, as if they are working in the same physical space, and all the commands and instructions are executed precisely at the intended time without any misalignment introduced by network delay.
As well-formed as some of these scenarios sound, there is room to improve the processes and iron out the wrinkles.
“We are merely in the infancy of cloud-based production,” McDonald said. “Right now, content is being pushed to all levels of production without a direct form of feedback. But soon, each of those departments and stakeholders will be able to push information back. This constant flow of information on a single platform will mean productions can work faster and with more accuracy.”
Interestingly, the Covid crisis of the past two-plus years played a role in the increased acceptance of working on a real production using virtual tools.
“The biggest take-away has been that it works,” said SDVI’s Brähler. “Obstacles that were thought to be too big to overcome now had to be worked through, as there was no alternative.”
It looks like there is still a place for content creators to have their own facilities, even as the capabilities of “virtual” facilities are expanded and allow for greater flexibility.
“We believe completely in the cloud and IP’s ability to transform live production in a way that dramatically expands who and how video is produced and delivered,” said TVU’s Shen. “It’s what drives us to keep creating.”
The hesitancy from just a few years ago to shift to a cloud-based workflow has been replaced with urgency. The many improvements of a cloud production model became clear as COVID restrictions forced producers into a remote production model, Shen said.
Bob Kovacs is the former Technology Editor for TV Tech and editor of Government Video. He is a long-time video engineer and writer, who now works as a video producer for a government agency. In 2020, Kovacs won several awards as the editor and co-producer of the short film "Rendezvous."
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