What I Learned at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show

David Friend, CEO
Wasabi Technologies, Inc.
04/12/2018
Blog

If you want to know where the future of media and entertainment is headed, just walk the floor of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show in Las Vegas. I spent the last few days there and the mind boggles at the innovations and the mountain of sophisticated technologies behind every TV show, movie, or commercial.

In one aisle, I passed a three-story-high 4K video wall. There were countless CGI special effects companies with green screens that could “transport” you to any location you wanted. In another, the lightning-fast moves of a couple of break dancers were superimposed onto Kermit-like animated frogs. There were some very talented musicians composing soundtracks right on the spot in real time, and robots that can walk around sporting events, shooting video from the sidelines.

There’s a lot that goes into making video entertainment

The process of creating a TV show or a movie is a lot more complicated than I had thought. Just a simple music video can use 10-12 different cameras, shooting scenes from every conceivable angle. Raw footage is parceled out to editors, colorists, effects artists, music production companies, and dozens of others involved in the final production. This talent could be anywhere in the world, and all that footage needs to be transported, organized, orchestrated, and put together into a final product.

Just how much footage? It’s not uncommon to shoot 100 minutes of video for every minute that ends up in a finished piece.

Storage underpins nearly everything here

All this raw footage needs to be stored somewhere that these large, distributed teams can immediately access. Then comes all the different versions of the final production. You have to create a version for television, for theaters, for iPhones, Android, tablets, DVD, Blu-ray, 4K—the list goes on. For the foreign market, you may be dubbing the film or TV series in 20 or 30 different languages and adding subtitles for up to a hundred. Then there are the re-edits to deal with cultural or political sensitivities to sex, violence, profanity, or any number of leanings that one market might deem offensive.

When all is said and done, there may be as many as 200 different versions of the finished production in addition to the raw footage—and it all needs to be stored somewhere.

Hollywood’s archiving needs have changed

When you spend millions of dollars to create a film, you’re probably going to store it forever, including all the raw footage (for future director’s cuts, gag reels, documentaries, or to digitally replace an actor whose recent scandal is suddenly a liability).

It is estimated that over 500,000 feature-length movies exist in the world. Many are still on film, waiting to be scanned and converted into digital movies that can be streamed. There’s also a robust market for old TV shows from the middle of the last century. Studios can make money on all this old content if they can just get it online. That means digitizing everything and archiving it in a way that is fast, easy, and affordable to retrieve at a moment’s notice.

Calling all best-of-breed M&E content vendors

I checked out all the other storage vendors at the show, of course. There were a lot of on-premises storage vendors. Frankly, I don’t see how they can all survive. There were big ones like Dell EMC down to small startups that were selling extremely fast flash-based storage. One tiny company was claiming read speeds of 18 GBps. That’s gigabytes, not gigabits! If you’re editing 4K videos and you are impatient, you probably need something like this.

As for cloud storage, there were the usual players: Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. They all offer a range of products aimed at doing everything that you need to create a movie or TV show: editing, post-production, workflow management, content distribution, and storage. Amazon seemed to be way ahead of the others in terms of the breadth of their offerings.

Interestingly, there is quite a backlash brewing over Amazon, though. One studio executive who stopped by our booth remarked, “These guys are now making movies and TV shows in direct competition with us. Why would I want to send them a check for anything?”

I believe that while Amazon, and to a lesser extent Microsoft, have the whole video production field covered, they are not best at anything. They don’t have the best video editing suites, they don’t have the best content distribution network, and they certainly don’t have the best storage. I think there’s an opportunity for the best-of-breed vendors to form an alliance—an anti-Amazon alliance if you will. Based on my conversations, I know the major studios would welcome it.