M+E Connections

IBC a Sign of a Return to Normal

One of the greatest signs that the industry is getting serious about moving forward was the announcement of the 2021 IBC programme — in person and virtual — in Amsterdam Dec 3-6. It’s a fun, informative way to kick off the holidays.

IBC CEO Mike Crimp and his team have arranged keynoters from Netflix, Warner, Fox, Discovery, Unity, and a packed programme of global players such as Avid, Adobe, Frame.io, Blackmagic, Harmonic and lots of others.

They’ve scheduled exhibits and sessions covering key subjects including production and post as well as the push of OTT and D2C entertainment. As rapidly as the industry has moved from localised content production/distribution to global virtual work, the dual approach almost makes sense.

It’s the way the industry works today: alone but together in the cloud.

Sure, you can blame the pandemic for shutting down productions, closing country borders and stacking up terabytes of raw, in-process video data in every corner of the industry. However, it also stimulated the ingenuity and commitment of folks, organisations to push their creativity to keep the video pipeline open … and filled.

We’ll be honest, we’ve never been big cheerleaders of the cloud — private, public, hybrid — because we were raised on local storage.

We always viewed the cloud as expensive and full of holes especially when you compare it to stacks of hard drives you can see when you enter the office or post facility.

But, after hundreds of video meetings over the past year plus and seeing technical and creative folks do whatever needed to be done to meet their budget — time/money — we’re beginning to appreciate the importance of the cloud as a major enabler for the M&E industry.

Hybrid cloud support by AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others — which will be covered in-depth at IBC — have changed the game:

• Edge computing enables foreground/background image processing, content creation, ad-insertion, product placement, more personalised experience
• It provides access to massive amounts of GPUs for rendering, processing
• The cost of moving content into/out of the cloud is still expensive but it can be edited, processed, delivered quickly, almost seamlessly
• It provides almost infinite storage and dynamic caching so it can be accessed from almost anywhere
• Moving workloads from bare machines to virtual machines to containers enables multi-cloud deployment

As Tom Coughlin of Coughlin Associates highlighted in his 2020 M&E storage report https://tinyurl.com/5dn92rjr the industry’s move from analogue (film) to digital content production (and distribution) has multiplied the importance of fast, reliable, high-capacity digital storage across the industry.

It wasn’t that long ago that all the production/post work was in the same house or close.

You shot the stuff, took the storage to the post people and they worked their magic editing the data, balancing colours, doing the special effects, editing/syncing the sound turning days, weeks, months of content shot under all kinds of conditions into a movie or TV episode.

All that changed and great new studio tools were introduced that let people change a studio into a new, exciting place anywhere in the world … or out of it.

Eliminating the need to travel to exotic or unworldly locations, it’s little wonder that new studio facilities cropped up in the past two years in Vancouver, Toronto, Atlanta, Berlin, London, Nollywood, Bollywood, Hengdian and are booked up by studios and content owners even before the last nail is driven.

Coupled with location growth and technical advances by Adobe’s Frame.io (recent acquisition), Harmonic, Blackbird, EditShare, Yamdu, DaVinci Resolve and other tools collaborative workflow is possible for post-production work no matter where the best possible talent is located including remotely at home.

Latency is still a major issue for remote access for direct creative editing and post work on raw content which is one of the key reasons the cloud remains the key centralised managed repository.

The smaller size and lower bitrate of high-resolution 4K, 8K, HDR (high dynamic range) raw footage enables editors, colourists, FX, sound editors, animators, CGI pros and others to move the content smoothly around the globe and minimise their storage needs.

Once the top-down work is done the content, instructions can go back to the cloud for the really compute intensive work to be done such as rendering, transcoding and hopefully safe asset storage and protection.

Yes, it is more complicated and more interesting than that, but it gives you an idea why you need to spend time at IBC and learn more as well as be involved in the professional organisations.

A major concern across the industry is going to be the long-term storage/protection of digital media assets.

Cloud storage may be the cost-effective solution for smaller production facilities and independent creators that can’t or don’t invest in local archive storage.

During a recent honest to gawd face-to-face regarding the conference (we’re both vaccinated), Allan McLennan, CEP of media and head of M&E North America for Atos, emphasised that the industry is interested not just in creating/producing good stuff but monetising it.

“The distribution part of the M&E industry was forced to change as theatres closed and audiences spent more time at-home,” he said. “Netflix and Amazon Prime raised the stakes on D2C (direct to consumer) entertainment as people shaved or cut their cable service to enjoy what they wanted, when they wanted and on whatever screen they wanted. “It was a strong stimulus during a rough period for studios, networks, content owners to work to offer better content, better selection, through better services at a more economical cost.”

While some service providers got all starry eyed about making big bucks with tons of entertainment, others shifted their attention to what they know best: delivery.

AT&T’s past CEO Stephenson and present boss Stankey learned the hard/expensive way that owning entertainment things like DirecTV and Warner can be brutal when you don’t know the people and how they work together.

At the same time Comcast CEO Brian Roberts surprised a lot of folks by doubling down on his infrastructure investment by buying Sky to become the fourth largest broadband provider in the world behind China Telecom, China Unicom, and NTT.

Then he let his NBC Universal groups do their own thing and focus on creating/distributing content.

It’s a myth that everyone is cutting their cable bundle to pick up 4-5 great content services – Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, HBO Max, iQiyi, Tencent, Youku, AppleTV+, and hundreds if not thousands of local/regional streaming services.

The problem is people still need to get all that content onto their screen and the cable guy’s broadband fibre is the best way to provide that last 100 ft of service so…

Gerry Purdy, a respected telco consultant/analyst, told us that AT&T made the shift to build out their 5G infrastructure to do what they do best — provide high-speed, reliable broadband/wireless service.

And we appreciate that … really.

At IBC, exhibitors and presentations are going to explore solutions for every content provider and consumer. After all, according to Digital TV Research SVOD still has tremendous growth potential in the years ahead, topping $100 billion by 2025 reaching more than 1.5 billion subscribers in 138 countries.

“We expect Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime will continue to lead the streaming roster over the next few years,” McLennan said, “but feel that Warner Bros Discovery, Peacock, Apple TV+, HBO Max and perhaps even Paramount+ will continue to become stronger domestically in the US and grow their international services.

“The big challenge though is that every service is investing a lot of time trying to track and understand their viewing numbers,” he added, “and that’s difficult. Not only does every service do everything possible to keep their viewership a deep, dark secret but also because every subscriber/viewer has a unique reason for keeping their roster of services.

“Netflix and Amazon were born digital and have perfected their data mining, analysis capabilities to better understand their viewers’ entertainment wants/needs and use that data to create addictive content. Netflix recently announced that Squid Game has rocketed to the #1 spot in the world. It’s the biggest non-English language show around the globe … and that’s no accident!

“Every streaming service — AVOD, PVOD, SVOD — is or should be paying attention,” he quipped.

Yes, there’s going to be a lot to dig into and come to grips with at IBC and we think it’s an opportunity for content creators, producers, and distributors to capture the information/ideas they need to be ready for the next few years of health/tough entertainment growth.

Andy Marken [email protected] is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media and entertainment, consumer electronics, software, and applications.