Microsoft, M&E Execs: Cloud, Collaboration are Keys to Solve Security, Other Challenges

Transitioning to the cloud and increased collaboration are among the keys for media and entertainment companies to solve the security and many other challenges they are increasingly facing, according to executives at Microsoft, software company Autodesk and visual effects company Jellyfish Pictures.

Many of Microsoft’s partners are “starting to work much more closely together,” Tony Emerson, its worldwide managing director of media and cable, said July 25 while kicking off the Video in the Microsoft Cloud: Where Collaboration Meets Workflows event at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York.

“Video in the cloud for us is the next step that people can take to move their, eventually, entire video value chain into the cloud and make something that is … easier to produce, faster to produce, hopefully less expensive, but also — for creatives — something that they can really work with,” he said.

One encouraging sign for Microsoft is that it’s starting to see some of its largest customers become more open to moving their workflows to the cloud, he told attendees, noting that some are even “looking at eliminating all of their premises applications.” He noted, however, that Microsoft Azure Stack runs on premises in addition to the cloud, offering a hybrid solution for customers. He added: “For some countries, some authorities that’s going to be a requirement.”

In the session that followed, on “Secure Rendering in the Cloud,” John O’Sullivan, Microsoft director of technical strategy-media & communications, pointed out that his company was working to “ensure that you can scale your workloads from your existing investment on-prem up to cloud-based elastic compute” services.

Microsoft also continues to work on addressing security concerns, Joel Sloss, Microsoft Azure senior program manager, said. As examples, it’s working with standards groups including Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) and the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA) to adapt things like the content protection standard to the cloud environment, and working with content holders including Jellyfish “to create guidance that can be used more broadly in the industry,” he said.

“Definitely leaks are bad,” he said, adding that Microsoft’s goal is to provide an environment where “workflows can be configured and then used from anywhere by anyone as long as it’s somebody who’s authorized to be there.” Many organizations, from large studios to small companies including dubbing facilities, “find that their security posture is better running in the cloud than their on-premise system,” he also said, noting that some companies tend to have a “false sense of security” about their on-premises solutions.

Autodesk, meanwhile, has “gone through a big business model transition” in which its services have become more subscription-based, Daniel Tutino, Autodesk product manager, said. The idea of partnering with Microsoft Azure and other cloud partners are providing it with more flexibility to distribute and deliver its tools, he said.

A lot has changed in the computing sector in recent years, he said, pointing to the declining number of PCs with DVD drives as one example. “The mindset for production has changed as well to go with that, and I think we’re adapting along with the trends,” he said. Autodesk’s clients in the M&E sector, meanwhile, are pretty much all debating deeper transitions to the cloud for their workflows, but there are still “few studios, I would say, that are 100 percent cloud,” he said.

The cloud is making it easier for employees to work from home and do it securely, which provides better work-life balance, he said. More studios are becoming open to this and it’s resulting in more cross-studio collaboration and the hiring of more freelance workers, he said, adding that a studio or other organization shouldn’t want its technology to “be the blocker to getting that person onboard.”

“The whole cloud journey” for Jellyfish “started a few years ago when we wanted a way of accessing additional resources, when we needed them at the time without the risk of over-provisioning,” and it’s “come a long way” since then, Jeremy Smith, its CTO, said.

Asked why now is the right time for cloud rendering of visual effects vs. 2-3 years ago, Smith said: “Speaking from a studio perspective, we’re under a lot more pressure … to deliver Ultra HD content compared to SD or HD or even 2K. So, for us, it’s a mammoth increase in the amount of renders we have to get out the door.” At the same time, he said, space at its London office was limited and office space in the city was “cramped” and there was “no way that we could just like knock down another wall or take on another floor in central London; it’s just cost-prohibitive.”

He predicted that on-premises visual effects hardware won’t be “going away anytime soon.” But he said, “the days of over-provisioning,” such as buying another 10 units of hardware “to get one job out the door and then having to just let them potentially sit there without guaranteed work … are over.” Although Jellyfish “will likely have some on-prem hardware all the time,” he said, “I can’t see us investing anymore in on-prem render.”

Providing advice to those organizations that haven’t at least experimented with moving their rendering workloads to the cloud, he said they must first figure out which workloads they want to move to the cloud and they must also have a “firm foundation” and understanding of “what their pipeline and what their workflow is like.”

He added: “The biggest barrier to the cloud essentially was before that you had to basically change the way that you work in order to take your workload to the cloud. But now that’s no longer the case.”

Jellyfish is “really excited about the future of how content is created,” he went on to say, pointing to the increasing amount of content that people are watching via companies including Amazon and Netflix.

“We’re at a time where the way that content is created is massively changing,” and more studios will have to transition to the cloud for the greater “flexibility and agility” that it provides, he said, warning studios that don’t start the transition now will have a tough time competing five years from now.

More than 300 people in the M&E sector attended the inaugural Microsoft Media & Entertainment Day, which included the video in cloud track, along with tracks on content protection, metadata, and AI, machine learning and bots.