Before the media industry had ever heard of COVID-19, it was already slowly headed toward a big change. Adoption of new technologies for team communication and remote connectivity were steadily shifting the industry towards distributed working models, providing flexibility while promoting collaboration.
Then the pandemic happened, accelerating the urgency from "maybe someday" to "right now." "It has been a really transformative change," says Tim Claman, Avid SVP and general manager for Video, Post, and Storage Solutions.
Now that the dust is settling, the question becomes: what's next? What long-term impacts will reverberate throughout the industry, and how will workflows evolve in the coming months and years?
"When we look back in the future, I think we’ll see that this change was really tectonic for the industry. It’s not just about how to work around impediments created by the pandemic, it’s about fundamental changes to the ways we work together—how people connect and collaborate,” Claman says. "New models are still emerging, so the transition is not complete yet. That said, it is already clear that the industry will never fully return to the old models."
To get a better picture of the future of this industry, we spoke with Claman about where he thinks it is today and where it's going in the future.
A Distributed, Global Work Model
There remains little doubt that the industry is moving toward a hybrid model, where existing on-premises facilities and services are complemented by an expanding ecosystem of remote workers. "We're seeing how the industry is evolving to a 'best of both worlds' approach," Claman says.
However, he prefers a different term for the change that's occurring. "In the past, you had these hubs of infrastructure and teams that were co-located around that infrastructure, and everyone else was remote,” he says. “Looking forward, the model is increasingly 'distributed working' where everybody is on an equal footing, regardless of where they are located. That’s the paradigm shift, from remote working to truly distributed working," he says.
The future benefits of this new level playing field are significant. "There's a huge opportunity here to help cultivate a global economy," he says, where the industry isn't rooted to larger centers like Los Angeles, New York, or London, but open to the entire world. Talent can be matched based on suitability, not location.
That will have more than just an economic impact, of course. "There's a world of talented people out there," Claman says. "It's exciting to me that we can help enable them to connect and work together on projects without geographic constraints."
A Continued Boost in Innovation
The industry’s initial response to the disruption caused by the pandemic was a remarkable accomplishment, highlighting the industry's ability to pivot quickly when needed. Nonetheless, "the first phase of ‘work from anywhere’ solutions were inelegant," Claman says, which is understandable given that everyone was just trying to find whatever worked to allow them to regain their productivity. In doing so, Claman believes something like a road map for the future was created.
Lessons about what worked and what didn't were learned through trial by fire. "Now the trick is, how do we take the learnings, the insights from that innovation by necessity, and deliver more elegant solutions?" The industry will have to answer that question in the years ahead—especially once it moves out of the shadow of the pandemic, which is still being dealt with. "Even two years later, we are still delivering new capabilities and products that really are a response to the pandemic," Claman says.
Innovation isn't limited to tools either. It's not uncommon for the industry to be habitual—if not outright superstitious—about the way they do things. "People get entrenched in workflows because they have been successful in the past, even though they may not be the most efficient approach. With the pandemic, people couldn't keep doing the status quo. They had to change their workflows," says Claman. That mindset—freed of habit and open to the new—will likely continue as the media production industry continues to innovate and adapt new solutions.
Creativity, Not Data Management
Among the innovations the media production industry should be moving toward are workflows that free up space for creativity by lessening the need for data management. "Every minute you're doing something that's not creative—uploading, downloading, importing, exporting—takes away from the time you have to be creative," Claman says. The years ahead will see the growth of concurrent working models where “creators don't focus on moving data around, it just follows the workflow organically.”
"That's where we’re heading: a future where the participants in the content creation process can work fluidly and concurrently together, on the same program, at the same time. They're focused on their role and their creative value, not the nuts and bolts of moving data. Sometimes that kind of vision can seem utopian," he admits. "But I don't think it is."
During the pandemic, priorities shifted in order to make remote work possible. Software licenses, network connectivity, and data management strategies all became major challenges. That will remain the case with the move toward permanent distributed working models, though one IT concern stands out as an especially high priority: security.
"In the past, a lot of sensitive, valuable data was locked up in facilities, air-gapped from the outside world. But that is all changing. Data is now flowing around more freely, and that creates opportunities for the content to leak," Claman says. The rise of both ransomware and ransomcloud also pose a substantial threat. A future with successful distributed working models will require content creators and tools vendors to continually audit their systems to understand where vulnerabilities are so they can be addressed. That's not a one-time fix, but a moving target that requires continuous vigilance to keep up with ever-advancing cybersecurity threats.
A Wave of Human Change
"There's another wave of change that's more human than technological that we just don't fully understand yet," Claman says. "We don't yet know what lasting psychological effects the pandemic will have for people."
The shift to distributed work certainly has led to some discovering the work-life benefits of working from home and preferring it for the future. But Claman believes the pandemic also caused work-related introspection "that has more to do with how people view work, how they view their role, how they look at their goals and desires, and how that fits or doesn't fit with different ways of working." He goes on, "They may realize, 'I don't want to do this role anymore. I want to do something else.'" In other words, the industry could see a sizeable workforce shuffle that could remap it.
Preparing for that, as well as all the other changes on the horizon, is something the media production industry should embrace—not just because it's good for it, but because it offers the potential to be good for those who make it run.
As Claman puts it, "There's a real opportunity to make people's lives better if we get this right."