Cloud services driving production, post & distribution
Issue: January 1, 2018

Cloud services driving production, post & distribution

LOS ANGELES — Last year’s television epic, The Young Pope, was a true international effort. The 10-part series, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, was co-financed by Sky Italia, Canal+ and HBO. Production was spread across Italy, the United States and Africa. Vendors contributing visual effects and post services were based in countries across Europe and North America.

The producers kept work on the series humming along and its far-flung stakeholders abreast of progress by moving part of its workflow to the cloud. They used WCPMedia Services’ platform-as-a-service to store and share dailies. 

“The producers were able to provide elements to parties around the globe, quickly and securely,” says Kenneth Yas, WCPMedia Services managing director, Americas, “and do wo with 100 percent confidence in the material they were sending abroad. We accommodated their video specs and color science into our workflows to deliver a result that was color accurate and consistent across the board.”

Los Angeles-based The Africa Channel has also recently moved part of its operations to the WCPMedia Services cloud. It is using the platform to market content to broadcasters, streaming services and other distribution outlets worldwide. The company’s production arm, TAC Studios, showcases original content, such as the lifestyle series Africa Everywhere and the food show Africa on a Plate, via virtual screenings rooms. “Our customers can log in and enjoy a high-quality experience on their desktop, tablet or mobile device,” explains TAC Studios technology consultant Bill Admans. “The quality is equivalent to watching shows on a streaming service." 

Cloud-based services, like WCPMedia Services, are being employed by companies throughout the media and entertainment industry to facilitate a variety of production, post production, distribution and marketing tasks. The reasons for moving to the cloud are compelling. Declining costs for cloud-based storage have made it a practical option for hosting ultra large media files. Advances in file-transfer systems, processors and transcoding software have made ingest, formatting and file management simpler and less time consuming. “Storage capacity and processing speed were once barriers to cloud adoption; now they’re assets,” says Yas.

Cloud services are now widely used to speed distribution of film and television content. Netflix recently moved its streaming operations to the Amazon Web Services Cloud. Hulu and the BBC are among other studios and broadcasters that have or an in the process of joining the move to the cloud. 

But it’s not just industry giants. Electus, mid-size distributor of such shows as Running Wild with Bear Gryllis, Jane the Virgin, Fameless and Style, recently shifted distribution for its international arm to the WCPMedia cloud. Where it previously relied on an outside vendor to fulfill international orders, it now does it all in house. 

“We upload master files of our shows to the WCPMedia cloud right from our office,” says Electus International senior VP of worldwide operations, Brad Jorgensen. “Our customers are then able to sign in and download them. It’s fast, easy and secure.”

Like many WCPMedia Services clients, Electus is using only a few components of the company’s cloud platform. “They employ one, very powerful part of the system that addresses their immediate need,” explains Yas. “Companies tend to adopt cloud solutions to fulfill some urgent demand. For example, they may need to deliver a large file to a customer by tomorrow. They beauty of our system is that it is feature-rich and our customers can implement additional components as new needs arise or their business grows.”

For post production facilities, editing houses, visual effects studios and other service providers, cloud alternatives to expensive internal IT infrastructures increasingly make sense. They can transform large capital investments in technology — that may not have a long shelf life — into predictable, pay-as-you-go operating expenses. They also add to workflow flexibility. Storage, processors, workstations and other resources can be added or subtracted instantly. There’s no danger of running out of capacity when a big project arrives, and there’s no paying for idle hardware when times are slack. Similarly, technology improvements and upgrades can be applied faster and more uniformly in a cloud platform than in a traditional brick and mortar facility.

Cloud adoption has progressed fastest as a storage solution, driven, in part from the increased popularity of 4K, UHD and other high resolution media formats. The 2017 Digital Storage for Media and Entertainment Report, issued by Coughlin Associates, estimates that overall annual storage capacity demand for non-archival applications is expected to increase by 2022 from 7.6EB to 51.1EB, a nearly seven-fold gain. Post facilities, the traditional repositories for much of that data, will be hard-pressed to keep up with that rise in demand relying on in-house, physical storage systems.

Distributors, production companies and post houses have done the math and have begun implementing cloud-based storage solutions to augment, if not replace, internal systems, according to Jeff Greenwald, a product development expert specializing in storage technology. 

“Companies are becoming more comfortable with the cloud,” he observes. “It’s not solely about price. Cloud providers have done a good job in addressing industry concerns about data location, access rights, user identification and security.” 

Despite the advantages of cloud infrastructure, change isn’t happening as quickly as one might expect. The technology may be ready, but hurdles to adoption are real. Distributors and post houses have a lot of money invested in legacy technology and aren’t anxious to dispose of hardware that has remaining utility. Plus, there is the human factor. People prefer to stick with what they know. Additionally, some companies find it a challenge to implement new and unfamiliar technology. 

“A lot of small- and mid-sized organizations don’t know how to structure a cloud infrastructure properly,” says Erik Weaver, global director, M&E market development at HGST, a Western Digital brand. “Their technical staff knows how to run its own data center, but may not understand how to make the link. You don’t just port it to the cloud; that’s not how it works. It’s complex and if it’s not done right, it can lead to bottlenecks. They may have bandwidth problems. They may have security problems.”

Studios and other enterprise scale players are further along in deploying cloud workflows because they have the resources to bring in experts and implement holistic solutions. “If you look at larger studios, cloud adoption is absolute,” Weaver observes. “They’ve hired senior architects who really understand these things and now they’re using cloud tools for post, editing, distribution. It’s across the board. Smaller shops? Not so much.”

Yas suggests that small to mid-sized companies partner can reap the advantages of cloud workflows by partnering with a provider that is focused on their industry. “Not all cloud services are the same,” he says. “Generic providers like Amazon and Google are one-size-fits-all services targeting a broad range of industries. They are focused on storage and throughput. Post production facilities have very specific needs and requirements that don’t easily shoehorn into those big platforms.”

WCPMedia Services’ platform-as-a-service was developed specifically for the production, post production and distribution of entertainment content. It includes modules that support core services such as media backup, dailies processing, review and collaboration, and media delivery in ways that conform to industry norms and technical specifications. 

“We have the agility to gear up quickly and deploy a solution oriented to media and entertainment workflows,” says Yas. “That’s something Amazon simply can’t do.”

The WCPMedia PaaS was recently confirmed as conforming to best practice security protocols under the Digital Production Partnership’s Committed to Security Programme. It is also under review for AS-11 UK DPP certification through the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA). That would make it the first cloud asset management system certified for the emerging global standard.

If they haven’t already done so, small- and mid-sized service providers and distributors would be wise to begin formulating a strategy for cloud adoption, says Yas. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, he notes. It’s possible to pursue a staged strategy. 

“For smaller, independent companies, the cloud can be a game-changer,” he says. “It offers a way to lower overhead and control operating costs, while helping companies keep pace with quickly evolving technology. It also provides a path toward growth by enabling companies to compete in the global market. The technology is there, and the time is ripe to embrace this change.”