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Will recent events drive IP adoption?

Tim Burton, Managing Director, 7fivefive
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Recent months have challenged the broadcasting industry beyond all expectations. The lockdown situation far exceeded what business continuity planning could have predicted. Looking ahead to the post-coronavirus recovery and the long-term, there is scope to operate remotely, but infrastructure needs to be put in place to support these huge changes. 

Prior to the pandemic, disaster recovery was a localised issue with short-term solutions. An organisation’s resilience depended on a contingency plan: if there was a fire in the London office, editing teams in Paris and New York would pick up the workload, perhaps with some additional freelance support. Now we face global challenges as opposed to local ones. Self-sufficiency wasn’t even a consideration prior to this outbreak. On the contrary, the benefits of a global economy meant that resources could be shared between teams and they could operate from different hubs, collaborating on projects with ease.

While remote working has always been a part of the broadcasting industry to a certain extent, historically it has relied upon a level of physical infrastructure. From OB trucks with full crews, to post-production suites, its processes have been built around freedom of movement. With this being restricted, we need to redefine what collaboration and content production look like.

IP in a crisis

The crisis significantly affected demand for remote workflows. The biggest challenge that organisations faced was legacy infrastructure which tied a team to its on-premises systems. Prior to social distancing, accessing the studio was unlikely to be an issue. Modernising a legacy system was something that a company could work towards over a period of time, gradually introducing a remote set-up. It was considered a ‘nice to have’ solution which offered an additional level of flexibility. Then overnight, remote workflows transitioned to an essential status.

Organisations which have previously seen value in workflow flexibility have been able to expand existing setups. Most were operating with around 20% remote coverage and simply scaled up that environment to manage the current challenges. The companies that have had an extended period of a lack of investment, however, are tied to on-premises storage. Without any form of cloud infrastructure, the first step is building a solid base to introduce remote solutions. There are two stages to the task; modernise legacy infrastructure on-site and then make it remote.

Centralising your storage for the cloud 

The first consideration for a successful transition to the cloud is where the content is currently located. This acts like an anchor and will determine how far your systems can be from it. There’s no bandwidth needed to post out a physical drive – you’ve got terabytes of media in your hand. However, the real problems come when you consider how to send the next batch without accessing the building. This is where organisations must consider how to cooperate around content remotely.

If terabytes of content are all in one location, it’s impossible to simply switch on a cloud workflow, because that’s not where the content is stored. If teams need to work in native resolution, files must be uploaded to the cloud or proxy versions need to be created. Adopting a decentralised approach to storage means calculating how much you need, then multiplying it by the number of people in your team. This means that your physical storage requirements can get out of control quite quickly. On the other hand, centralising storage to access it remotely from the cloud keeps the physical space needed under control.

Rethinking WFH Culture

Despite phased lifting of lockdown restrictions, most organisations have accepted there will need to be long-term social distancing measures in place, to keep the virus at bay. Fears surrounding a second wave, also mean it’s unlikely we will see a return to anything like normal in the near future. Those organisations with the potential for remote working will be expected to implement it.

This will inevitability change the total number of people working from home, as well as the expectations of employers. The idea that editors must sit in specific on-site rooms will be a thing of the past and companies are likely to reconsider how facilities are built. Lots of other industries already have this philosophy and have implemented at least some form of hot-desking or flexible working strategy. Offices are being designed around the idea of meeting and collaborating once or twice a week, rather than offering a permanent space to work.

The old thinking revolved around the ideas that broadcasting infrastructure was too complicated to implement remote editing. However, the necessity of change within the current climate has forced the industry to develop credible home-working strategies. Once social distancing comes to an end, it’s unlikely that we’ll forget what worked well from the situation.

This change in mentality also extends to live broadcasting. Previously, when working to produce a live show, the requirement was that the team must attend the facility. Now the broadcasting industry is rethinking its entire approach to live content for the long-term.

Focus on flexibility

There has also been a shift in perspective, when it comes to designing solutions. Prior to social distancing, any design which changed existing infrastructure would need to be calculated upfront to fit in around post-production schedules. It would then have to be tweaked and approved over an extended period and implemented by working around existing infrastructure.

Now, the nature of this crisis means that everyone is working in unprecedented ways. The only real question on rolling out infrastructure changes is: how quickly can you resolve this? Attitudes have completely flipped from a belief that technology should enable existing workflows, to considering the best way for the organisation itself to adapt and make the most of the cloud.

The best advice for effectively managing change from a technical perspective is to stay flexible, as service providers might well be able to offer a more comprehensive solution than you imagined. If you approach infrastructure changes with a rigid plan, then that limits the potential solution. Rather than focusing on a particular problem, look at the broader picture – what result are you trying to achieve? If you allow your team to develop a solution that encompasses multiple areas of the business, it facilitates a better overall outcome.

The future of content

During the lockdown, demand for content was huge. Anything that could be created virtually or shot from home could fill a gap. Prior to this, the broadcast sector had specific bars for quality, from the type of camera that could be used, to style of editing and overall look. Within the restrictions of social distancing, the only criterion is whether the content is interesting.

During this crisis, the importance of IP delivery has grown. With demand hitting old infrastructure, we will need to ensure that connections are improved over the long-term to support a remote working economy. The lesson for an organisation’s business continuity in future will be agility over perfection.

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