M&E Journal: Reimagining Production and Post, While Staying Ahead of the Trends

By Chuck Parker, CEO, Sohonet

While it could be a full-time job to watch the industry forces that are driving the film, TV and ad production industries, we are monitoring eight key trends that we believe are driving significant impact across the industries and have a high potential to disrupt the current status quo.

Episodic production is skyrocketing

Driven by players like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, there’s even more expansion ahead as Apple and Disney+ join the fray. This is a new era for the small screen, where content owners perpetually seek to outbid and out-innovate each other for the right to entertain us with blockbuster content. This pushes the creative community to keep up and to surpass expectations.

While this may well be considered the golden age of episodics, the infrastructure to create this heady new content stream is changing the entire landscape and it is not possible without advances in technology and workflow.

VFX integral to high-quality content

For the past decade, we’ve witnessed a steady expansion in the expenditure for VFX in all content types — episodic, spots, features — in turn triggering a push to the cloud to accommodate the intense compute and storage requirements. That growth, in combination with a deepening global talent pool and regional tax credits, is bringing bigger and more sophisticated VFX shots within reach of lower-range episodic budgets.

All are indications that VFX will continue to grow in both volume and sophistication while the volume and competition will reduce the average price point of shots.

Drive to public cloud resources

Due to the increased demand for high quality VFX content over the past few years, facilities have turned to the cloud to help solve their “peak” compute challenges, with cloud rendering now becoming more and more commonplace. With file sizes continuing to increase — 4K, 8K, HDR and HFR — and immersive media such as VR emerging, leveraging the cloud will not only be routine for the highest budget projects and largest vendors, it will be essential for next generation content creation.

Companies are building entire TV shows, commercials and even movies from cloud resources. The technology has now evolved to a point where any filmmaker with any VFX project or theatrical, TV or spot editorial can call on the cloud to operate at scale when needed — and still stay affordable. What’s next? Greater investment in the cloud. Undoubtedly the largest benefit from working this way is freedom — you can remain untethered from hardware, from both buying and maintaining it.

And, it’s the cloud that will allow a facility to hire the most talented artists and make use of top compute firepower without requiring the massive overheads of physical buildings or legions of staff that have characterized the last two decades of studio postproduction.

The distributed workforce

The daily trip to the office may be a thing of the past. While this is not a news flash as there’s already capability and deployment between major office locations, we’re looking at the next wave of distributed teams, enabled by massive investment in enterprise collaboration tools (Zoom, Blue- Jeans, Google Docs, Slack) and network infrastructure. That infrastructure will enable a drive to smaller offices spread across metropolitan locations, a trend of opening offices in new metros, less obvious locations (e.g., Portland) and more people working remotely.

Long anticipated and theorized, the ability to collaborate in real-time with teams in multiple geographic locations is a reality that is altering the postproduction landscape for enterprises of all sizes.

Freelancers (still) rising

The rising prominence of the freelancer in M&E has been astonishing and while freelancers have always been part of the film and TV industry, their presence is beginning to dominate the landscape. Currently there are an estimated 800,000 professional video freelancers in North America and Europe. According to Forbes, freelancers made up 35 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016, growing to 56.7 million people in 2018.

Based on a survey by Edelman Intelligence, the numbers are expected to pass 50 percent by 2027. While freelance labor is nothing new in our industry, the trends above combined with the “gig” economy will drive a further expansion in freelance labor in feature, episodic and ad content production, including a major expansion in “nearshoring” to tax-friendly locations.

Large file transfer

The past 10 years of large file transfers were enabled by enterprise level servers, applications and “IT data wranglers.” The explosion of content production, ascendency of personal file transfer tools and mass deployment of file syncing tools put the capability into the hands of the team members at every level. Combined with the trends toward distributed work teams and the death of enterprise software, this trend will continue to accelerate. Be it a small team or an individual, production entities are looking for ways to make file transfers in a secure, efficient, fast and seamless manner. They need a solution that’s easy to use and easy to maintain without IT support. The future is full of opportunity for vendors who can address this growing need.

Demise of the enterprise software model

Software delivery has been evolving over three axes for these 10-plus years: SaaS vs. on premises servers and licenses; reduced complexity and singular focus vs. all-encompassing modules; and distributed team admin vs. enterprise administration. These all drive changes in how teams consume cloud resources and applications, and will accelerate remote collaboration capabilities to create more distributed teams softwareas- a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). A reliance on cloud computing and storage is rising to the forefront in response to powerful market forces.

In five years, media creatives and their vendors will all consume services in a cloud-based environment. SaaS and PaaS provide quality, simplicity and an out-of-the-box experience. From a business model, it provides low price, high volume and allows mass customization and organic growth. If you’re a vendor, it’s time to adapt, because studios and productions will soon demand it — and will migrate to those that provide it.

Ad spend is growing

Far from the same beast it once was when broadcast or cable were the only viewing options, ad spend is growing, and at the same time, it is splintering. The previously two-strand operation has broken into multiple channels, from “broadcast” to OTT and social. Video advertising continues to prove an effective medium, especially as digital video ads can be hyper-targeted to a carefully selected audience.

This change is undoubtedly growing advertising budgets and the video spend pie, but it’s making it much more complicated to serve — not least because viewing audiences are rapidly expanding their content expectations and preferences. Technological advances, ranging from virtual and augmented reality to 5G, will open further opportunities and complexities in the video advertising environment.

How does all of this relate to you?

For the media technologist, new creative workflows have to be the result of evolution, not revolution, but without a roadmap the only destination your team will reach is confusion or inertia.

Experiment. Leverage down-time to identify potential solutions for virtual workstations, cloud storage, cloud rendering and transcoding, real-time review and approve tools, and democratized collaboration and file sharing.

Develop. Test preferred tools at scale (25 creatives vs. one), distance (from L.A. to London or Sydney), and agility (quickly increasing capacity when and where required) while keeping an eye on the total cost of ownership and cash flow friendliness.

Refine. Continue to tweak and adjust to new tools and workflows to improve speed and agility while reducing costs.

Deploy. Once a tool set or revised workflow is performing better than current best practices, push the tools into each new production opportunity and educate your creative community on why the changes are better and how they can best take advantage of them, publishing them as the new best practice.
For the industry creative, practical evolution while focusing on delivering the current project at hand is the suggested approach.

Producers. With roughly half of production costs coming from travel, seek to offset rising VFX spend by forcing more of the creative work to be led from talented creatives that are already located in the tax-efficient markets. Build confidence in real-time remote collaboration, allowing directors, post and VFX supervisors and studio executives to work together from where they live, reducing costs and improving speed and agility.

Directors. Experiment with a “virtual video village,” where the editor and his team are working in real-time from their home market, while post and VFX teams are working from theirs (in tax-efficient locations).

Editors. Build out your personal capabilities on cloud-based workflows, developing a feel for SaaS tools that meet your creative requirements, but allow you to share output in real-time with the production creatives on location.

Post supervisors. Experiment with the tools that allow your vendors to leverage work across geographies, improving speed and reducing costs without sacrificing security or quality.

VFX supervisors. Press your vendors to deliver real-time review sessions from their location to yours with creative approvals taking place daily, reducing shot rework and lost time.


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