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Media Supply Chain and Remote Working

Media Supply Chain blog series ... part 4
13.01.2022
Media Supply Chain


Following on from part three of this blog post series, delving into the What, Where, and How of the Media Supply Chain and focusing on a number of peripheral topics.

In the previous article we looked at an important example of administrative metadata - specifically, IP (intellectual property), and rights management. In this article, we will look at remote working within media production and the media supply chain.

How do we enable remote working in a sustainable way?

It may have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for some time there has been a trend towards enabling remote working within media production and the media supply chain in general. Many organizations are looking closely at how to realize this in a sustainable way.  


With technology enabling the distribution of content to extend beyond traditional territories, it logically follows that production could or should do the same, and there can be some significant benefits in doing so. If, for example, we look at large events such as the Olympic Games, the cost of creating a production infrastructure on-site and posting staff on location for several weeks can be enormous. Instead, sending a much smaller satellite operation to “location” and handling the majority of the production remotely reduces costs, simplifies logistics and reduces waste.  


Another major advantage is talent. If we are no longer restricted in terms of location, we have access to a much wider talent pool – something that can be important in instances where subject matter knowledge is valuable in the production process. There are, of course, some technological hurdles to overcome when it comes to remote production or remote working.   


Much like the “iron triangle” of speed, time, and quality, which describes the old cliché “fast, cheap, or good: pick two”, in video encoding and transport we have efficiency (bit rate), quality and latency; any two can be achieved, but at the expense of the third. 


Metadata_MSC blog
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High speed connectivity is now far more affordable and easier to come by than previously, and with the advent of 5G, accessibility will only increase. However, video files and data streams are, as we’ve covered before, BIG, and despite the accessibility of high-speed connections, there is still a dependency on highly efficient encoding and transport to make video accessible remotely.  

What constitutes sufficient quality here depends largely on the workflow, content, and target distribution in question. In some workflows, it will be sufficient for the users to work on a low resolution “proxy” of the original video and if the target destination is, for example, social media, it may be sufficient to create final distribution media at a lower resolution. But, with the advancements in screen technology, even mobile devices now feature HD or better resolutions, and journalists and editors working on content will likely prefer to work with full resolution content. Reducing quality for these users in the production chain can significantly detract from the user experience and working on low resolution remotely may well be seen as the “poor cousin” to working on the high-resolution media local to the production.  


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Latency can be introduced at multiple points in remote workflows – the encoding of the video at source, any re-encoding that happens before reaching the user and the many “hops” that the data stream needs to take during transport. The shorter the distance, in theory the fewer the “hops”, but there are a number of other factors that can alter the latency. 

The importance of latency manifests itself in two ways. First, when dealing with live or near live productions, it is obviously necessary that those pictures reaching the users are as close to “live” as possible. What sort of delay is acceptable will again depend on the workflow, content, and target distribution – that might be “frames” if the production is to be distributed, while a live event is still “on air”, seconds or tens of seconds if shortly after, or minutes or even hours for anything later.  It will always be important for that latency to be deterministic (within reason) for reliable workflows. 

The second way that latency manifests itself is once again in the experience of the users in the production. How responsive – how quickly their user interface responds to command inputs – the video player or editor depends significantly on latency between requesting and receiving the incoming video and that has massive impact on the usability of the production tools. While the “hops” discussed above do have an impact, resolving this in a scalable and cost-effective way requires us to take a different approach when it comes to presenting the video to these types of users.  

Two approaches have become common place, both utilizing streaming technology:

1. Virtualize the application of the user and stream the user interface to the users’ desktop

For example, if the user is using a craft editing application, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, the Premiere client itself will be local to the video content, and an image of the user interface will be streamed to the users’ interface. In this way, the responsiveness of the application is exactly the same as it would be if it were local, because it is local - only the user is remote. Since large parts of the user interface do not change much over time, (only the video does and other elements such as audio meters) this stream itself doesn’t require a huge amount of bandwidth, and ensures a good user experience even on lower speed connections. The downside to this approach is the duplication in CPU (you need the virtualized application as well as the users’ physical interface), which limits scalability and overall efficiency. 

2. Re-encode and stream the video content only into the users’ application on their remote interface

To ensure a consistent experience, this might require more reliable bandwidth than the first approach, but it does remove that duplication in CPU and can be far easier to scale. If you have more users, you only need to scale your stream servers, you don’t need more virtual applications. This approach also has the advantage that wherever the user is, they have the same desktop experience.  If they use Premiere locally (in the office) they can also use that remotely, and with appropriate media management, they can also have portability between locations and the ability to work on/off line as needed. This isn’t possible with the first approach, which will likely require them to launch different applications depending on where they’re working and also require additional steps to move content/project if they need to work on/off line.  

Remote working is here to stay, and while connectivity will continue to improve, as consumers demand higher quality (HD, UHD, HDR, etc.) and higher quantities of content, the challenge to ensure a stable and consistent experience for users in the media supply chain will also remain. 
 

Of course, a significant challenge around remote working in any environment is also security, and that’s the next topic we are going to explore. 


Find all blog posts in this series here:


Part 1 ... Standardization
Part 2 ... Metadata
Part 3 ... Rights & Monetization 
Part 4 ... Remote Working

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