A new generation of platforms is helping teams to share content and provide feedback more easily in this phase of greatly increased remote working, writes David Davies.
The trend towards more review and editing work taking place on film and drama sets, and the consequent blurring of boundaries between production and post-production, meant that the traditional cycle of review and approval was already facing changes before the pandemic struck.
But there is no doubt that recent events have greatly accelerated the cycle of development here, with the need for more seamless review and approval during Covid conditions having an especially marked impact.
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“In a lot of cases the old-style approval process where you sit and watch people work and then give your opinion in a room with other people has simply not been an option recently,” says Mike Szumlinski, chief commercial officer at media management vendor iconik. “Instead we have had a work-from-home revolution, and we all know that everything isn’t going to revert to the way it was. Remote approval is now a logical expectation of any sort of creative workflow.”
“Remote approval is now a logical expectation of any sort of creative workflow,” Mike Szumlinski, iconik
In which context it’s not surprising that the past 12 months have heralded a cluster of new review and approval (R&A) solutions, as well as upgrades or additions to existing offers. With the cloud as an increasingly important facilitator, there are also signs of R&A requirements evolving across the range of content production – from high-end drama to daily news programmes.
‘More formal processes have emerged’
As much as there has been a technological shift affecting R&D, it’s also been about practicality and logistics. Procedures could vary considerably from business to business and, as Szumlinski remarks, “even in very large-scale environments you might have people doing things in a very off-the-cuff way – for instance, by sending an email to confirm that something is ‘good to go’.” Therefore, the recent industry trend that sees “more formal processes emerging around review and approval means that a lot of the complications can be cut out. [For R&A solutions] simplicity is key, although they also need to be dynamic enough to allow for multiple approvals, should they be required.”
The “review kit” that iconik has itself is in many ways “a natural extension of ingest or other processes” that take place during production. Incorporated into the iconik software, Review and Approve allows customers considerable flexibility in defining how an asset is to be reviewed and whether all those who can access it have to provide their approval. Szumlinski adds: “What we provide is a full collaborative software, and as part of using that it is of course the case that [R&A] does happen and at various stages too. Our role is to make that as natural and efficient as possible.”
Given the near-universal increased demand for remote approvals across sectors, it’s not surprising that recent R&A-related growth – in the words of Szumlinski – is “not vertical-dependent at all. From an iconik perspective, one of the most interesting things about the company’s recent growth is that only about 50% of the customer base is now in what would be considered traditional media and entertainment.”
‘Dramatic increase in demand’
Helping customers to maintain “workflow continuity” despite the present circumstances has been a continual focus for Primestream, too. Speaking with Mario Diaz Becar, the company’s vice president of global sales and operations, there is no doubt that this emphasis includes R&A. “You have producers who want to be able to drag and drop the asset into the timeline of their creative tool and be able to see all the annotations and change requests that have been made [in a user-friendly way],” says Becar. “Over the past 12 months we have seen demand [for R&A] increase dramatically, but we are well-positioned there.”
In no small part this is down to the company’s evolution since 2018 of a SaaS-based collaborative review and approval system, Review Hub. Designed to enable the secure sharing and feedback collection of media across an organisation by tight integration with Xchange – which is Primestream’s own MAM platform – Review Hub can also be utilised by external collaborators via a web-based browser interface. As well as allowing users to add frame-specific markers and metadata, the platform offers privacy controls by way of watermarking, password protection and time-specific links.
“Over the past 12 months we have seen demand [for R&A] increase dramatically,” Mario Diaz Becar, Primestream
“Security was an issue when we all worked in centralised environments and, of course, people are giving a lot of attention to how best to protect their environments and their content assets now that more processes are taking place remotely,” says Becar. Hence the future of R&A is likely to be shaped by the dual priorities of content protection and system capabilities that “allow everyone to have flexible access to, and collaborate effectively and securely on, the same content”.
‘Accelerated processes of development’
The impact of a massive spike in demand for content as well as new ways of working has been profound across the TV and film production community. Michael Cioni, global SVP of innovation at video R&A platform developer Frame.io, recalls a recent conversation with an executive at a prominent content creator who said “they had done five years of evolution in 12 months [regarding their use] of new technologies. That really gives you an idea of how accelerated the processes of development have become recently.”
With production cycles also intensifying, it’s only logical that Frame.io’s latest innovation – Frame.io Camera to Cloud (C2C) – has an objective of “closing the gap between production and post”. Launched at the end of March 2021 and included with all paid user plans, C2C uses a secure cloud-based workflow to let customers instantly upload and stream images from on-set cameras. The creation of editable proxy uploads means that producers, studios, agencies and others can receive and review camera files within seconds of ending a shot – even while filming is still in progress.
With security provisions including full TPN and SOC 2 Type 2 compliance, the new solution underlines the increasing role that the cloud is set to play in content review processes. The cloud heralds the potential to “accelerate various post-production” tasks, says Cioni, but it’s also important to note that it “does not change the universal backbone [of production] which is to shoot, back-up, edit and archive content”. Instead, ongoing innovations should be perceived as part of “integrating our platform into the production set itself”.
Looking ahead, Cioni makes several fascinating observations which indicate that R&A is likely to remain a work in progress industry wide. More and more, he indicates, the production company will serve as “the hub” of all related processes, and in some instances it may be the case that “in-person review is still better” than remote equivalents. But there could also be profound long-term creative benefits of embracing a more distanced approach to R&A.
“For instance, it makes it much easier for each person to comment at a frame accurate level without interrupting someone else,” he observes. “So you are going to get more feedback and clearer feedback to the actual editor, which is very valuable. It also means that the quiet person can be heard as much as the louder person. I know from my own experience that [a room full of vocal contributors] can be a scary place to be! But now there is a chance for everyone to contribute and that leads to better results.”
Like so much associated with remote working, what was required to be good enough in March 2020 is now absolutely critical. With review and approval solutions seemingly already at a stage that supports fluid and advanced remote working, this is an area where continued innovation appears guaranteed as creative teams look to further optimise their R&A processes.