Audiences are gobbling up TV shows at staggering speeds. That’s thanks to the ever-multiplying number of screens in their homes, the explosive growth of OTT video services and the proliferation of devices that allow on-demand access to streaming content. These viewers—so hungry for content that they’ve earned the moniker “binge-watchers”—aren’t letting up in their desire for fresh shows. As a result, the pressure is heavy on TV production houses to churn out blockbuster-caliber series.
The pace of original content is already light-years ahead of where it was even a decade ago. In 2018, FX networks put the number of original, scripted series across the industry at nearly 500. That number has climbed every year for nearly a decade, and will likely continue to balloon with the entrance of Disney, Apple and WarnerMedia into the streaming game.
If this growth stalls or plateaus, it’s not because budgets are shrinking. In 2018, Netflix alone spent $12 billion on new content, according to Variety, and is projected to spend $15 billion this year. If there is a limiting factor in scaling original content output to match audiences’ appetites, it’s the outdated technology and processes used by production houses. Complex and costly on-premise servers, bottlenecks in the editing workflow and global distribution challenges strain budgets and create long gaps between seasons. These challenges will inevitably ratchet up the pressure from both audiences and networks.
However, a solution exists—if production houses are willing to re-think the way they define studios and the processes that drive them. The future of production is a “studio in the cloud,” where many of the traditional post-production activities exist in a decentralized, streamlined environment. Resource-heavy tasks like editing, color grading, sound sweetening and mixing can all begin immediately, and in some cases concurrently, with cloud-based studios that allow for immediate uploading of footage. Further, cloud-based platforms can speed up the packaging of final products for distribution, streamlining processes like region-specific versioning and adding subtitles. The ultimate result is a significant reduction in server costs, improved download/upload speeds and a greatly reduced timeline to global distribution.
THE ADVANTAGES OF A CLOUD-BASED STUDIO
Today’s TV blockbusters have taken on a life of their own. Take "Game of Thrones." No matter how divided opinions may have been on the final season, there’s no denying the series’ pursuit of technical perfection (except for that rogue coffee cup). However, the labor of love from the show’s creators and crew often riled die-hard fans—there was a span of 18 months between seasons 7 and 8. The production was so ambitious that it warranted a behind-the-scenes documentary created with more than 950 hours of on-set footage. Much of this inside look revealed the pain points faced by modern production houses, as well as opportunities for cloud-based studios to help bring "Game of Thrones"-size epics to the screen more efficiently.
● Streamlined workflows
Cloud-based studios are the “breaker of chains” for any professional who works in an editing bay. Cloud platforms can serve up footage from the set to post-production teams around the world, allowing tasks to be completed simultaneously and eliminating the need for many complicated and expensive on-premise servers. Systems like these can also make the handoff of content between teams much more seamless, giving everyone involved peace of mind that they are working on the most current versions of the footage.
● Reduction in cost
Storing and sharing the massive amount of footage needed to produce modern TV series isn’t just a pain point in the workflow process—it also creates a strain on budget. Migrating footage and workflows to the cloud can significantly reduce technical costs in post-production. Because the cloud allows work to be done anywhere in the world, travel and logistics costs for editing shrink, while the talent pool grows—globally accessible footage means top professionals from every continent can become part of the team without having to be on set.
HOW CLOUD-NATIVE TECHNOLOGIES ARE REDUCING PRODUCTION COSTS
While a completely cloud-based production operation is still being realized, technology solutions are already reducing the time between a director declaring a wrap and a viewer tapping “play” on a new episode.
Component-based workflows through innovative packaging formats like the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) are helping accelerate distribution timelines. IMF helps speed up global distribution by reducing the number of files needed to compile region-specific releases, prepare existing content for a larger release and optimize releases for multiple channel partners.
IMF also eliminates the need for an individual media file for each channel or geographic location—it allows for a single master file package to be adapted to a variety of needs. Within this package exists the audio, subtitles, packaging data and more—combined as a composition playlist (CPL) that allows content distributors to make changes to individual components without altering the master file. This means fewer errors and more flexible versioning at a lower cost.
More players in the streaming space means the never-ending hunger for original content will give a competitive advantage to the production houses who can capitalize on quick, quality turnaround of original content. Production houses that rethink their concept of the studio, and invest in technology to make this vision a reality, will reduce costs and speed the time of their content to release. A “studio in the cloud” unlocks a future where post-production is less focused on logistics and IT and more time pursuing perfection in the creative elements of work.
Dan Goman is the CEO of Ownzones.
This story originally appeared on TVT's sister publication B&C.