SMPTE 2017: Q&A—Julie Meghan McDonald, Nimble Collective

Shortly before the start of the SMPTE 2017 Technical Conference & Exhibition, TV Technology spoke with Julie Meghan McDonald, director of business development at Nimble Collective, about her session “Moving to the Cloud: Current Risks & Rewards... ,” presented with Nimble Collective colleague Corban Gossett and Mac Moore, vice president of sales & marketing for Conductor Technologies.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Would you say that companies, as a rule, are either too slow to take advantage of moving production to the cloud, too fast or for the most part adopting the cloud at a reasonable pace?

JULIE MEGHAN MCDONALD: There's a sweet spot for early adoption of any new technology. For moving to the public cloud this tends to be small, agile firms, with relatively low capital investment in current technology. Or a division in a large organization where risk tolerance is manageable. So, rather than saying companies, as a rule, are too slow or too fast to adopt, I would say that within the industry, the most successful early adopters are companies who can tolerate some manageable R&D experiences, for example, remote collaboration or variable streaming latency.

I expect companies will start to adopt quickly once a large studio makes a feature film entirely in the public cloud space. At that point, companies who don't shift will begin to feel left behind. Costs are going to drop significantly once the industry retools in this direction so there will be an increase in adoption as firms and marketers experience the benefits of cloud-based pipelines, and feel secure.

TVT: Do most content creation companies today have people with the necessary skillsets to fully understand the risks and rewards of moving their IP to the cloud or should they be looking at adding specialists to their staffs?

MCDONALD: Because the cloud computing environment for media is relatively new, even large and well-staffed IT departments, with decades of experience, will find some areas are new or unknown to them. Advances in streaming and technology delivery are not the only new areas. New models for billing and licensing are also emerging. So even if a company has all the IT and tech knowledge it needs, it will also need to look at its financial/enterprise model to review/grasp how moving to the cloud will change its return on investment. Adding specialists full-time isn't a requirement.

Attending conferences, reading journals and engaging with small cloud projects to test the waters is a great place to start. A specialist in a defined engagement might be best applied to a one-off experiment that educates and informs internal stakeholders, being sure to include the finance team. As a CEO I would create a cloud taskforce assigned to investigate how moving to the cloud might be part of my company's long-term strategic plan, with short-term experiments to capture and assess ROI.

TVT: Would you say that there is an advantage to moving this kind of work to the cloud that a significant segment of the industry doesn’t fully comprehend yet?

MCDONALD: Yes, absolutely. One first advantage is a vast reduction in infrastructure costs. A second advantage is access to global talent pools, and a third would be a potential explosion of creativity as collaboration across the globe increases. Once remote collaboration takes hold, companies no longer have to invest in expensive real estate footprints offshore; labor is free to work in proximity to family. The yearly costs of relocating labor are astronomical in not only media and entertainment but many other sectors as well. Lowering costs and capital investment in technology infrastructure is a significant market disruptive force and significant advantage to companies.

TVT: Aside from the obvious concerns about security, which you’ll certainly go into, is there a drawback to moving from local storage to the cloud that a significant segment of the industry doesn’t fully comprehend yet?

MCDONALD: At this time, the primary challenges are around whether public cloud-based tools are robust enough to handle significant data synchs and transfers. Also, global internet infrastructure determines how fast data can move from point to point around the world. The internet backbone is present in most locations, but not yet open and commoditized for public use. The main drawback, aside from security concerns is around "The Last Mile"—that delivery point to the end user working on their computer in their location and the latency requirements for an easy feeling to using the creative tools.

TVT: Do you see content archiving moving entirely to the cloud or do you think content owners will continue to want to hold onto physical media for the foreseeable future?

MCDONALD: As a member of the Association for Moving Image Archivists, AMIA, I can relate to folks who want to keep a local copy of everything. I think firms will want to hang on to their local storage solutions because the nature of archiving tends to be risk intolerant.

However, in the long run, yes, I think archiving and media storage, media creation, the entire process will be cloud-based. 

Why? Because of costs. Technology iteration merely is too expensive in the long term for a single company to take on and maintain indefinitely into the future. The cost of migrating archives from data storage solution to data storage solution includes maintaining the machines, skills and equipment associated with each media storage type. Eventually, not too long from now, visual media created at 4K or audio at a hit bitrate, is easily stored and accessed via the cloud.

Our industry is moving to the cloud; there's no doubt about that. Sectors will shift in line with their ability to understand, control and forecast costs. The eventual long-term costs for all media creation are going to be significantly lower than local solutions. Companies with strategic teams assigned to investigate and map out their cloud strategy will pull in front, as they lower their costs and can reallocate investment to talent and storytelling, away from a capital investment that requires long-term write-downs. Storytelling will move into the forefront—reduced labor costs, enhanced collaboration and reduced capital investment—this is what the cloud will usher in.

A few storm clouds might appear on the horizon as companies learn and as the internet backbone settles into robust global performance. Overall, organizations that educate themselves and prepare will weather those and be well prepared for this new paradigm.