What I Learned at MESA HITS Fall 2018

Whit Jackson
Whit Jackson
Vice President, Media and Entertainment Sales

At the MESA HITS Fall 2018 Hollywood Innovation & Technology Summit over the course of 24 hours, two receptions and a dozen or so sessions, I had the opportunity to meet people representing the behind-the-scenes technology side of the movie-making business. These are people far behind the camera lens and the director’s chair—the literal army of technical talent who make sure the infrastructure and technology backing every aspect of Media & Entertainment is fast, reliable and cost-effective.

The cutting edge in M&E is truly the bleeding edge, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with the most truly innovative technology of nearly any industry on the planet. And yet the M&E industry as a whole adopts new technologies just as ANY industry does. A small few want to be the innovators and leap into a new, untried technology. The fast-followers come after that.  And eventually, the laggards who waited to make sure the technology is absolutely rock-solid and cheap take advantage of well-proven techniques.

This was hammered home from the very first session. The keynote featured Aaron Levie (@levie), CEO of Box, interviewing Theresa Miller, EVP and CIO of Lionsgate. Having spent roughly 20 years involved deeply in Enterprise Content Management, the conversation was refreshingly familiar to me.  They talked about the migration of enterprise content and business processes to the cloud. In this case, in the context of legal contracts, scripts and redlines and an endless array of documents and business processes. Long gone are the days of fax machines and using golf carts to move documents around studios.

The revolution of high volume, mission-critical digital documents for enterprises like law firms and financial services organizations has come to Hollywood.  And CIOs like Theresa can now sigh with relief and simply take advantage of the benefits the cloud and SaaS have delivered.

“There’s an app for that” and “It’s in the cloud” are the new mantra, although in M&E, just as in every other industry, not everyone has made that journey yet.

Next up – it’s Real-World Cloud Production Workflows

In this session, the high stakes, fast-moving world of big-screen productions was highlighted with an interview of Larry Kasanoff, Chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment by Joel Sloss, representing Microsoft Azure. The internet has opened up entirely new markets for Threshold. (Only 28% of revenue comes from the U.S. now, versus 78% ten years ago).  The internet has also transformed the way the studio produces content.

Larry talked about the benefits Threshold has gained since moving to the cloud several years ago, and how they will never go back to the old way of movie-making. Why? With the internet and high-speed broadband, Threshold can leverage freelancers and production houses from all over the world to balance costs, deal with unpredictable workloads and accelerate schedules.

The cloud also helps Threshold avoid infrastructure cost and operations complexity. By introducing cloud rendering, the studio has reduced capital investments and shaved two months off production schedules.  Kasanoff sees a near-term future where nobody needs to own their own render farms— the risk and cost simply no longer make sense.

Kasanoff also corrected some common misconceptions about the cloud being less secure than traditional physical infrastructure. He feels security in the cloud is “as close to 100% as you can get.” He regaled the audience with tales of footage, hard drives and tapes being stolen at gunpoint on a location shoot in Turkey. Both the raw footage and tape backups robbed in one fell swoop. Cloud storage is a no-brainer for backup and production work from his perspective.

What about the Future of Live Streaming Digital Production?

The next session “How Cloud-based MAMs Enable the Live Coverage of the Future” explained how Fox Sports used an all-cloud infrastructure to handle live coverage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The cloud-based implementation brought together live production across ten stadiums, 32 sites and three media locations (postproduction in L.A., studio in Red Square and the onsite operation at the International Broadcast Center).

The scale of this operation truly hammers home the cost and efficiency benefits of going all-cloud. The Fox World Cup production included 1.9 PB of storage, 2000 live feeds, 127 TB live footage being processed concurrently and 384 editors working remotely off the cloud in two locations—some local staff in Russia, and the majority in London.

The Cloud – The Future is Here Today

The final session I attended featured Entertainment Technologist Mark Turner presenting “Why Video Post-Production and VFX will Inevitably Move to the Cloud (and it’s not why you’ve been told…).” There were some noticeable gasps from the audience as he painted a vision of an all-cloud future.

The cost of traditional infrastructure, its increasingly short useful life, and the sheer complexity and moving parts, particularly of the distribution end-of-production lifecycle clearly got the attention of the audience. Turner’s vision of a holistic cloud where “the content never moves” (mostly) and access to the right version of some piece of digital content at any given time is simply a matter of changing access rights, warmed the cockles of my Information Architecture and Content Security heart.

I have seen far too many clients and solution providers over-architect a complex solution, when a much more streamlined and elegant approach removes a TON of risk, cost and inefficiency. Mark’s proposed architecture forced the audience to confront some unfortunate truths about the way most production and distribution workflows are currently handled (such as the current practice of sharing mezzanine files with distribution partners rather than just the version appropriate for their channel).  A cloud-based architecture can eliminate these inefficiencies and reduce risks.

In summary, the cloud, in its many flavors and uses was front and center at MESA HITS. While there is plenty of technology at work within Media & Entertainment, the shift to Cloud 2.0 is well underway, and given the buzz from various standards organizations attending, there is a serious industry push to go farther and faster with the cloud. The demands of the marketplace are simply too intense to not take advantage of faster delivery into the market and radically reduced production and distribution costs.

Whit Jackson
Written By

Whit Jackson

Vice President, Media and Entertainment Sales