Heightened demands on cloud storage and bandwidth pressures resulting from large-file transfer are the universal concerns for broadcasters as production shifts greatly in favour of working from home during lockdown, writes David Davies. 

Cloudian HSX in M&E.Light

Cloudian: HyperStore Xtreme in M&E

If there was ever going to be a single event to test the capabilities of the cloud storage and file transfer solutions that have emerged during the past decade, then Coronavirus undoubtedly fits the bill. But it is unlikely that even the most far-sighted vendor could have foreseen the sudden and substantial shift in favour of broadcast presenters and production teams working from home.

While the main differences to the viewer are likely to be a greater variation in picture quality and an increased opportunity to view on-air contributors’ bookshelves, the impact behind the scenes has been significant and complex. Fresh from a webinar canvassing opinion from content makers in Australia, Dropbox head of media Andy Wilson reports that “the resounding feedback was that bandwidth was their number one challenge, which is directly linked to the need to move large media files.”

At the domestic end, variable bandwidth has meant an increased interest in solutions that provide preview-style features that reduce the need for files to be downloaded in their entirety, as well the capacity to split up files for easier transfer pre- and post-editing. Seamless synchronisation between multiple users’ machines at home and the cloud has also become more critical, while on the broadcast centre side technical teams have had to ensure they have both robust network access capability and sufficient storage – leading to the implementation of more hybrid solutions involving both cloud and on-site facilities.

As Wilson notes, “every area of content production and broadcast has been affected by the outbreak,” but what’s been noticeable is how swiftly huge numbers of personnel have made the transition to working from home – raising the possibility that a greater inclination towards remote working by broadcast teams could be one lasting legacy of the current crisis.

File transfer focus
Reducing the need to move large files around has become more critical with domestic bandwidth now more of a concern – especially as the sheer fact of the lockdown has yielded more regular spikes in internet traffic. Hence there has been an increased demand for technologies that allow content to be worked on remotely without the need for subsequent re-uploading in its entirety.

For example, Dropbox’s Delta Sync “allows video and audio producers to only upload the changes to files, rather than having to re-upload the whole file,” says Wilson. “We are working with a radio broadcaster in the US that is a heavy user of this technology to help editors to make quick changes to packages, but only upload a much smaller amount of data.”

Jon Finegold

Jon Finegold: Remote feedback

Vendors also report a heightened awareness of file identification times and ease of transport from multiple sources. Jon Finegold, chief marketing officer at Signiant, highlights the capacity of its Media Shuttle SaaS to “make it very easy, fast and secure to access any size file from any type of storage. Operations teams can manage everything from the web and have complete visibility and control over all file access.” Inevitably, with more users likely to be drawing from a larger number of sources, accessibility has to be delivered in tandem with robust content protection: “All Signiant products are designed with enterprise-grade security, and so while we have seen a massive surge in usage since the pandemic began, these are the problems we’ve been solving for the industry for many years.”

Quicker content preview and commenting features are also proving to be beneficial. Wilson points to Dropbox Previews’ automatic transcoding of files into a streaming preview, allowing “editors, producers and execs to watch content back without having to wait to download the full file. They can then decide whether they want to commit to downloading the content or if it was the right content in the first place.”

David Phillips

David Phillips: Rapid identification

The service has also recently been enhanced with time-based comments, reducing the imperative for remarks to be emailed back and forth: “This helps remote teams give feedback really quickly, speeding up the post-production process.”

David Phillips, principal architect M&E solutions at Cloudian, also places an emphasis on rapid identification of the required content when and where it is needed. Working in partnership with content management company Storage Made Easy, Cloudian can offer features such as “the ability to view image thumbnails in a gallery format for photo libraries, as well as transcoding and proxy creation for high-resolution mezzanine codec files.”

Accessing archive content
While effective cloud-based workflows for ‘new’ production is one priority concern, then access to, and management, of archive material is another. “Having the ability to fully access and efficiently manage archives is especially important – now more than ever,” says Rick Phelps, CCO of video content management and delivery company Ownzones.

“With filming essentially halted worldwide, companies must now rely on either content that’s recently been shot or their archived content in order to continue to monetise during the pandemic.”

Hence “a substantial surge” in demand for Ownzones’ Connect platform, “which makes it possible for companies to service their entire library of archived content from end-to-end entirely in the cloud,” says Smith, who goes on to highlight the recent introduction of an AI-driven content library consolidation tool called FrameDNA.

OWNZONES Screenshot 3x2

Ownzones: AI-driven content library consolidation platform FrameDNA

The requirement to share content across multiple types of storage is also having an impact and leading many broadcasters to embrace a hybrid philosophy. Observing the demand from IT teams to “spin up storage and manage it entirely remotely [but with] the ability to access and share content on any type of storage”, Signiant’s Finegold remarks that “a hybrid cloud approach – where users and administrators can orchestrate activity from the web while leaving assets on-premise, in the cloud or both – is the best approach for media companies.”

While many organisations had already been looking at greater adoption of cloud storage, “the current crisis has been something of a catalyst,” says George Kilpatrick, CEO of Masstech, whose offers include modular storage platform Kumulate. “Consequently, we’ve had a number of enquiries regarding the ability of Masstech systems to incorporate cloud into on-premise systems, and we have been actively reaching out to help our customer base implement new workflows, policies and storage tiers to help adapt their existing Masstech systems to the remote workspace.”

Lasting legacy?
Given the remarkable speed with which many broadcasters have adjusted to this strange new reality, it seems almost inevitable that there will be an enduring influence on day-to-day operations. As Michelle Munson, CEO and founder of content management and distribution innovator Eluvio, remarks: “The thoughtfulness of everyone is currently at an all-time high… There is a lot of thought going on about next-generation approaches to monetising libraries and increasing digital agility.”

Michelle Munson_CEO of Eluvio_Headshot

Michelle Munson: Thoughtfulness at “all-time high”

Once the crisis dissipates, there will “definitely be a period of reflection on what workflows were really effective and which need to be evolved,” suggests Wilson. But with more remote working capabilities in place and a greater overall confidence that content can be delivered reliably by dispersed teams, a diminished emphasis on centralised production appears inevitable.

“People will always want face-to-face collaboration,” says Phillips, “but I think there is going to be a realisation of how much people are able to do at distance. Rather than be in the office 40 hours or more a week, [production teams] will be more inclined to time-shift their activities and do more work remotely. I think that it will be fascinating to see how this develops over time.”