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Responding to workflow demand with scalability

Tim Burton, managing director at 7fivefive, explains why it's crucial that media businesses are supported with the right expertise to transition to next-gen technology, and fully understand their usage and specific requirements

Over the last few years, media teams have been under almost insurmountable pressure to adapt their workflows. From Covid lockdowns that required a swift transition to remote working, to significant spikes in both the demand and technical requirements associated with major events, such as the FIFA World Cup. 

The way that viewers consume media has altered beyond anyone’s expectations and is likely to become even less predictable over the long-run. Ofcom’s 2022 Media Nations Report, highlighted that “overall viewing of TV and video has fallen from its pandemic peak, with broadcasters losing share despite improved performance for their on-demand services”, but it also noted that “commercial broadcast revenues, which were adversely affected by the impact of Covid-19 in 2020, rebounded strongly in 2021, rising by 10.6 per cent to £11.3 billion, which was also 4.5 per cent higher than the 2019 total”. 

Organisations have needed to pivot, to ensure their broadcast infrastructure keeps pace with differing consumption patterns. But this cannot be done effectively, without implementing the right technical solutions to effectively respond to workload fluctuations. That said, while there is huge potential for revenue generation within the broadcast industry, there is also a lot of uncertainty.

Infrastructure Challenges

The issue with traditional infrastructure is that it does not cope well with this uncertainty. In the past, media organisations would implement company-wide technology upgrades based on the predicted requirements for the following five years. Then when the infrastructure passed its peak, another mass upgrade of physical hardware would be needed. This often led to difficulties such as siloed content storage, and a mix of legacy and upgraded systems that struggled to communicate with each other across different departments. But as consumers continue to dictate the pace of change, broadcasters are recognising that they need to build more agility into their systems. 

No-one has a crystal ball, and the phrase ‘future-proofed workflows’ can certainly be overused. Broadcasters should be wary of any vendor claiming to know exactly what’s on the horizon. So perhaps a better way to support the longevity of systems and infrastructure, is by taking a more iterative approach to technology. Rather than being tied into restrictive frameworks, media organisations are recognising that comprehensive systems integration, cloud and hybrid workflows, and flexible capacity, will form the toolset they need to respond to changing circumstances. 

A Virtualised Future

Virtualised and cloud-based systems are being set up by many organisations, in an attempt to streamline remote editing and keep pace with the continually fluctuating demand. It is important to implement the right cloud approach to maximise efficiency. But not only that, companies must look at useability, accessibility, and the options for personalisation, to remove any barriers to staff adoption. The move towards hybrid and cloud-based working can certainly throw up numerous questions. Media teams are working with petabytes of video assets, and content on that scale will always be complex to manage. Therefore, getting buy-in from users and supporting staff through the transition to new technologies is a vital part of the process.

Storage metrics and platform management costs are key factors to assess. Companies must look at both data availability and the impact of any egress charges, as well as the type of scalability you can get from an elastic, serverless system. Cloud storage costs can vary significantly. So, it is vital to look at how frequently your team will interact with any media stored in the cloud, as well as the types of content that should be kept on different tiers of storage.

The price of storing the content is not the only consideration, virtual workspace costs also need to be monitored on a going basis to keep on top of them. For companies to stay agile, it is also crucial that their team members, both internal and freelance, can quickly access and edit media wherever they are based. Streamlined remote editing workflows need the involvement of several stakeholders, and these vary within different post-production studios and broadcast organisations. But whether it’s a post-producer, edit assistant, lead editor, or department manager handling the editing workload, they will need to feel in control of capacity.

Facing the Unknown

Media organisations are taking note of the vast differences between generational demographics. Audiences now vary significantly in terms of their consumption habits, the platforms they prefer, and the way they relate to different media content formats. Companies are understandably nervous about implementing sweeping changes to their internal systems when those changes may not match the demands of their viewers in a few years.

Cloud-based infrastructure not only has the benefit of facilitating a new way of working, by optimising physical space with workstations that can be accessed remotely. Its spin-up, spin-down structure is also hugely adaptable. By monitoring remote editing workstations, broadcast teams can check how many are in use, and which users are connected. Different instance profiles can be created to provide users with simple, workstation deployment with just a couple of clicks, and no need for specialist technical understanding.

Scalability will be a key factor for future infrastructure requirements, and a virtualised approach takes into account that no two workflows are alike. As we face the unknown, it is crucial that businesses are supported with the right expertise to transition to next-gen technology, and fully understand their usage and specific requirements. The need for agile setups that can quickly scale to demand will help optimise operational efficiency. In this way, the media industry can respond to the demands of constantly shifting media workflows and prepare for an uncertain future.