Three Trends That Could Disrupt Your Workflow in 2015

In the fast-paced entertainment industry, the technology for both creating and consuming content can shift sharply and quickly. Making the right technology choices, at the right time, with well-timed implementation can mean the difference in moving your business forward or wasting a lot of time and budget fixing bad decisions, or worse, losing the business. These three market trends have the power to disrupt your workflow, but by making a few key decisions today, you can transition smoothly in 2015, plus prepare for what’s to come in the future.

Trend 1 – Consumers Rush for 4K

If you think the transition to 4K will be anything like the past decade’s transition to HD, think again. 4K televisions have hit the big box retailers at mainstream prices, and consumers are snapping them up this holiday season. Even though there is very little 4K content available to consumers, the promise of crisp, clear picture quality has ordinary folks buying devices well ahead of content availability.

So, how is your 4K workflow coming along? Even if you don’t currently have a 4K project in the works, the last thing you’d want is to turn down a contract because you don’t have a plan, much less the technology, in place to create or deliver in 4K. In fact, many producers are creating 4K content ahead of their ability to distribute it now. Shouldn’t you?

The tough part of 4K production is streaming 4K content at frame rates of 24fps or greater without dropping frames on a shared storage system. Many storage solutions marketed as 4K can’t handle these higher frame rates, and they force you to work off direct attached storage instead. That means disrupting your workflow to download 4K content locally for edit instead of accessing it directly from shared storage. And that means saying goodbye to the collaborative environment that’s shortened your production cycles to meet the tight deadlines that drive our competitive industry.

Fortunately, with the right plan, the transition to 4K need not be painful. First, capture and archive content in 4K, even for projects you’re not editing or delivering in 4K. Then, when purchasing any new equipment, from cameras to monitors to networking to storage, buy components capable of 4K or better. Avoid proclaimed 4K solutions that force you to disrupt your workflow by going back to editing locally (direct attached storage) or acquiring and archiving with a lower-resolution codec.

When 4K projects come in, don’t rush to transition everything at once. Stand up a dedicated environment for 4K projects, but keep your existing HD workflow in place for ongoing projects. With the right storage solution, you can bridge the gap in your 4K and HD workflows by multi-mounting clients and sharing finished files between the two workflows.

Trend 2 – Collaboration Heads to the Cloud

Post-production has always relied on outsourced creative talent, but the scale and complexity of content production has grown to global proportions. Even a low-budget film might shoot in the rainforest in Costa Rica, edit in Vancouver, add visual effects in Korea, color-correct in Toronto, and finish in Hollywood. Cloud-based storage can remove the complexity of making and transmitting duplicate copies between remote teams, but will it integrate into your workflow or disrupt it?

Production team members generally access content through workflow tools such as asset management and edit suites, not a file browser. Without integration, that means extra steps for your users. At the same time, workflow functions such as transcoding, rendering, publishing, and billing are often managed through workflow automation. If these workflow tools aren’t integrated with the cloud storage service, you’ll likely need to rework your workflow, and possibly retrain your users.

So, when choosing a cloud solution, look for one that’s integrated with the applications you use today, as well as ones that you’re considering in the future. Ask the cloud provider and/or the workflow tool vendor for a list. If they’re not already integrated or resting on a platform that makes integration easy, you’ll likely have to disrupt your workflow in your move to the cloud. Keep in mind that most cloud storage products are toolkits requiring manual intervention or some user programming before they’ll work in media production. They’re not built for the complexity of media workflows right out of the gate.

Finally, in addition to the affordability you’ll need for high volumes of high-resolution content, you’ll need the same scalability, flexibility and security you demand in your on-site workflow storage — plus integration, or you’ll be doing a lot of work stitching your workflow back together.

Trend 3 – Monetization Squeezes Out Full Value

There has never been more pressure to transcode and deliver content worldwide — and to more distribution channels — than there is today. A broad range of new delivery platforms and new audiences can bring new value to legacy content, but only if your workflow supports it. If you’re not ready to release content quickly when a new distribution opportunity arises, re-process it for special features, or even re-use content in a new project, you’re leaving money on the table. And that’s not so easy to explain to your boss or your investors.

Unfortunately, most workflows are poorly set up to access, transcode and deliver content created years ago. First, the archive of digital assets must be searchable, preferably from a media asset management system, and it must be readily retrievable from long-term storage media. A surprising number of facilities fail at this step alone.

Less obvious is how transcoding and delivery operations can disrupt the workflow. “Real-time” workflow operations such as edit, color correction, EFX, audio sweetening and ingest require shared storage that’s designed to deliver multiple streams of high-resolution content over Fibre Channel. In contrast, transcode and delivery (as well as rendering) need storage designed for much smaller files with high IOP performance over IP connections. Most media storage cannot support these “non-real-time” transcode and delivery operations while maintaining streaming performance to ensure that editors never experience a dropped frame. And slowing down new content creation for re-releases is certainly not an option.

The good news is that some shared storage has specific capabilities that enable real-time and non-real-time operations to occur efficiently in the same storage infrastructure. These systems help you seamlessly organize content based on whether it needs to be online for the real-time operations or in “extended online” storage that keeps content quickly and readily accessible for monetization.

First, choose storage that can deliver content efficiently over both SAN and Ethernet connections at rates appropriate for streaming over Fibre Channel and with high IOP performance over IP. Then, for your legacy content, consider new storage solutions with fast access and long-term durability to extend your online storage, like new object storage-based solutions now on the market. Finally, look for solutions with automation to help you move content from online to extended online storage when projects are completed with seamless access, regardless of where the content is located.

The changes coming in 2015 bring with them a wealth of opportunity, as long as you are prepared. If you choose the right solutions and plan carefully, you can move forward with new technologies to meet these new market demands, without disrupting your workflow.

Janet Lafleur is a Silicon Valley technologist focused on storage solutions for Big Data and the media & entertainment industry. Her special skill is predicting how people will interact with new technologies, going beyond the “faster, cheaper, better” approach to evaluating technology. As Senior Product Marketing Manager at Quantum, she sees major storage disruptions caused by technology advances like rich media and video in the enterprise and higher resolution formats
and digital capture in data- and content-intensive industries. She is fascinated by the creative new strategies Quantum customers are developing to manage their ever-growing, valuable content, and loves to share their stories. Ms. Lafleur holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Louisiana State University.
Janet Lafleur
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