As media companies and content producers around the world adjust to the new normal of working remotely, many are faced with the challenge of how to create a production environment that can function both on-premises and in the cloud. ITV Daytime, responsible for the daytime programming block on Great Britain’s ITV network, faced that precise scenario when the pandemic hit. The network responded by partnering with Avid, Microsoft Azure, and Support Partners, a London-based firm that helps companies migrate to the cloud, to reimagine its Daytime editorial department as a hybrid environment that could unlock the benefits of the hyper-scale cloud to meet new team expectations of a more flexible work environment.
New Cloud Workflows
For ITV Daytime, there were three primary goals for shifting workflows to the cloud:
- Enable a hybrid, secure, quick-to-deploy production environment with the ability to add or remove resources at a moment’s notice
- Create a modern and sustainable work environment independent of physical location to support creative teams working from anywhere
- Use familiar Avid creative tools on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to ensure that ITV editors always have access to the latest software in a secure environment that optimizes long-term archiving and disaster recovery
Tim Guilder, Head of Production Technology for ITV Studios, explains, “Our business has really changed in the past two years, and we needed a new way of working that didn't involve several different parts of the business footing the bill. We needed to be more agile, to be able to spin resources up and down when production needed that extra bit of licensing and/or delivery of extra kit in tight turnaround situations. Then the global pandemic arrived, and our technology leadership said, ‘OK, we're ready to have a go at this’ and see how we can harness the cloud to enable a new way of working. The global pandemic was the catalyst for change and enabled the dedicated focus of the technologists to find out how to work in a different and more modern way.”
Mapping the Journey to the Cloud
At the outset of the project, teams from Microsoft, Avid, and Support Partners set out to design a scalable Azure-based Avid workflow that was compliant with both Microsoft and Avid best practices, as well as ITV corporate standards. The first step was to map out ITV Daytime’s TV production workflows and perform an audit of the technologies deployed. Avid and Support Partners worked closely with ITV Daytime technology and production groups, as well as with the network’s editors, to develop architecture designs and a project plan for migrating key workflows to the cloud. ITV’s Azure Foundational Services team was involved to make sure the plan aligned with cloud best practices.
Security was a key consideration: The solution had to ensure access only for properly credentialed users. This challenge was resolved by employing Leostream software as a connection broker, effectively linking the environment with ITV’s corporate Active Directory and multi-factor authentication provider.
Taking a disciplined approach to rolling out the new solution, ITV initially deployed staging and production environments for robust testing and gap analysis. Its testing involved reviewing service offerings such as Avid | Edit On Demand, a turnkey SaaS solution that auto-provisions all resources needed to deploy a high-performance editorial environment in the cloud. Avid | Edit On Demand leverages the same Media Composer and Avid NEXIS file system users rely on in their on-prem environments, allowing ITV’s editors to quickly discover that cloud editing can be delivered with the performance required for collaboration from anywhere.
As the project matured, ITV turned to a more customized Avid NEXIS solution. The result was a hybrid cloud editing environment that enabled editors to access, edit, and seamlessly move content to and from their on-premises workstations to the cloud, and collaborate with team members from any location.
“ITV Daytime has been a long-time customer of Avid, and we were eager to work with their team, along with Microsoft and Support Partners, to deliver a secure, cloud-based workflow,” said Craig Dwyer, vice president of global cloud & SaaS practice at Avid. “In so doing we provided a pathway for others in the industry to quickly deploy a scalable production environment in the cloud, with the ability to dial resources up and down as needed, while letting editors work from anywhere on the software they know—and to do it securely.”
Once the new platform was up and running, the ITV Daytime team sent a survey to its production group to gain feedback about the experience of moving to the cloud, as well as to learn how it might improve working environments for both producers and editors. An unexpected outcome of the survey was the excitement of editorial team members to be able to work from home, providing them with a better work-life balance, in addition to being more efficient.
“At Microsoft our goal is to empower global teams to collaborate seamlessly and securely, and through our partnership on this project with ITV, Avid, and Support Partners, we are able to do just that,” said Simon Crownshaw, director of worldwide strategy for media and entertainment at Microsoft. “And, with leading companies like ITV committing to embrace the power of the cloud for production, this is just the beginning of enabling media organizations to achieve things never thought possible by harnessing the power of cloud.”
Harry Grinling, CEO of Support Partners, adds that sustainability was another objective of the project. “It's been really interesting understanding that ITV’s sustainability and environmental goals closely aligned to Microsoft’s zero-emissions goals,” he said. “Factoring this in with other important levers, such as accessibility, elasticity, and scalability, the new environment aligns tightly with ITV’s goals.”
ITV Daytime editors can now complete programs from nearly any location, including their homes. Plus, the network has the flexibility to navigate any future needs for scaling production resources up or down and creating remote working environments for their editing teams. Additionally, Microsoft Azure provides the required content security for ITV’s assets, which includes cloud archive. Moving these assets to the cloud has created increased production capacity, allowing ITV Daytime to take on new productions without requiring additional office space or editing bays.
The ITV Daytime solution was deployed as a repeatable and scalable foundation so that it could be used across other business units at the network. In addition to reducing the need to invest in new hardware every five to six years, the solution also reduced ITV’s carbon footprint—meeting another key corporate goal—while enabling its teams to always work on the most up-to-date software.
Changing to a new way of working can be difficult, especially when it affects the workflow for artists and editors. Moving away from a legacy process requires measurable and tangible steps, as well as the expertise to ensure that production environments created in the cloud are optimized for the end user and represent a true benefit to content creation. The cloud-based production environment architected by Microsoft, Avid, and Support Partners for ITV certainly achieves this goal. The proof is in the pudding, as they say: ITV has already aired ten episodes of John and Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen using the Azure-enabled Avid environment from inception through to broadcast.