In 2019, MovieLabs, a nonprofit technology research lab working jointly with its member studios, released a white paper laying out a vision for the future of media production. Researchers outlined 10 principles the industry should embody by 2030 to enable a more streamlined, secure process for media creation and distribution. These principles were spread across three categories:
- A new cloud foundation
- Security and access
- Software-defined workflows
The vision is bold and far-reaching, requiring widespread changes in workflow, technology, and process. Bold visions are often met with skepticism, concerns about costs, complaints about the difficulty of implementation, and the all-too-common fear of change.
But something happened in 2020, and it pushed the industry to implement change much faster than expected: We were faced with a pandemic that forced a collective rethink about how we work, collaborate, and share media and information.
Quickly, much of the paper's original vision went from pie-in-the-sky to urgent necessity. In particular, the paper's ideas about moving production and assets to the cloud and creating software-defined workflows have seen widespread acceptance and adoption by an industry currently adapting for survival.
Accelerating a New Cloud Foundation
Target principle: "All assets are created or ingested straight into the cloud and do not need to be moved."
The pandemic-fueled shift to remote work requires access to media anytime and anywhere, turning a long-standing theoretical discussion into a pressing need. Many post houses, newsrooms, and studios have already implemented some form of hybrid storage system, allowing for immediate access to media.
Moving so much media to cloud servers has its challenges, especially when it comes to adapting security practices and ensuring speed of connectivity and access. With these changes happening so quickly and under so much pressure, organizations have begun finding the weaknesses in their systems—and identifying where they need to make improvements to handle media going forward.
The white paper's section on this principle anticipated this challenge:
"Sufficient bandwidth to enable camera-to-cloud capture is an issue in 2019, especially in remote locations, and there will continue to be a balance going forward between the ever-increasing size of files and the speed of compression innovation and expansion in wired/wireless access technology. And yet the benefits of having all assets stored in the cloud from creation means the studios will continue to push the boundaries of cloud-ingestion technologies."
It will take time to build the technology and resources required to make it possible for all assets to be cloud-native. However, the work being done now is already pushing things in the right direction.
Randi Altman of postPerspective spoke with MovieLabs CEO Rich Berger about how the pandemic had affected his company's vision for media creation, especially for moving media creation tools and assets to the cloud. Berger echoed the idea that the pandemic is accelerating acceptance of cloud storage and pushing their industry vision forward.
"It would be fair to say that COVID-19 has been a forcing function that has contributed to an industry imperative focusing on how best to migrate workflows to the cloud," Berger noted. "One of the persistent changes we hope to see beyond COVID-19 is the tolerance for all stakeholders, creatives included, to embrace the 'working from anywhere' ethos that our vision enabled."
Enabling Increased Security and Access
Target principle: "Applications come to the media."
Storing media in one central place makes it possible for creatives throughout the media production workflow to access those assets. It also enables those same creatives to work from anywhere instead of being tethered to specific hardware and servers.
In addressing this key principle, the white paper addressed the implications this could have on access to talent:
"Currently, creative talent often needs to live and work in cities close to the productions and their media files. If the media is cloud-native and can be streamed anywhere, talent is no longer tied to the production locale, which can also be anywhere in the world. Remote production talent in currently inaccessible markets can be called upon, perhaps for extremely specialized tasks, opening new avenues for creativity and a new pool of talent to address current shortfalls in specialist talent."
A common talking point since the pandemic began—across all industries—has been that a move to remote work removes the need for workers to live in centralized locations. This could be especially noteworthy in the media world, where jobs have traditionally been centered in just a handful of cities, most notably Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto, Mumbai, London, and Qingdao. Not only does that limit options for those who want to work in the industry, but it means there is undoubtedly untapped talent who have chosen not to move to those areas.
By creating workflows that allow applications to remotely access the media in one central, cloud storage location, these barriers can come down. That could benefit both the creatives and the industry that wants to hire them.
As Vortechs principal Jim Longeretta told Mix Magazine, "It's going to change the way people work. Editors, like most people, would like to spend more time with their families. If technology allows them to do more of the work from home, they are going to love it."
Expanding Collaborative Software-Defined Workflows
Target principle: "Workflows are designed around real-time iteration and feedback."
Another area covered in MovieLabs' white paper was a move toward eliminating the time lost to rendering and processing before reviewing various elements of the production. When people mostly worked in centralized locations, saved idle time was a clear benefit. But as creative teams connect remotely and search for internet-based tools for sharing screens and reviewing timelines, the benefits of collaborative workflows have expanded.
If a team is connected to the same set of cloud media and can use the same real-time engines and software gateways to view the media, then changes made by one are immediately visible to others. As much as some post-production jobs are seen as solitary, isolated tasks, the truth is that the ability to collaborate and access feedback is vital.
Editor Morten Højbjerg (The Crown, Hanna) spoke to ProductionHUB about this need: "There is this joke where two pictures of an editor are put up next to each other, one before COVID and one after, and they are exactly the same. Both in total isolation. But I actually don't find that to be true. The power of being around colleagues can't be exaggerated. I am a firm believer in the benefits of the end result when you keep an open mind to input and advice from others."
The Pandemic Has Sped Up the Timeline
Finding silver linings in a time of so many challenges is, well, a challenge. But looking at the future of media production, facing the pandemic pushed many decision-makers to take steps toward more agile and flexible processes. As Berger said in his postPerspective interview, "The reality is that we are seeing good industry alignment around our common vision and a number of promising proof-of-concept deployments . . . We are finding stakeholders from all parts of the ecosystem leaning in to help."
When MovieLabs released a vision for the future, it wasn't with a global crisis in mind. Neither could they have predicted how that pandemic would lay the groundwork to help move the industry toward their goals for the next 10 years. The future may be up in the air, but the winds of change are blowing in the right direction.