HITS Fall: Azure, Threshold Execs Look to Cloud’s Production Advantages

Creating cloud-based workflows for new media content provides enormous advantages for film and TV production companies, according to Microsoft Azure and Threshold Entertainment executives.

“Cloud is enabling the next big shift in how movies” and other content is being made, Joel Sloss, senior program manager for Microsoft Azure, said during the morning presentation “Real-world Cloud Production Workflows” at the Oct. 4 Hollywood Innovation & Technology Summit (HITS) Fall event.

For one thing, having the cloud everywhere “enables something very new on the content creation side, which is talent,” Sloss said.

“That’s exactly right because if you’re going to make globally appealing movies, it really helps to have a bunch of people from around the world working on your movies,” Larry Kasanoff, CEO and chairman of film and TV production company Threshold, said in response.

Kasanoff told attendees: “You don’t want to make the old colonial mistake of being an American guy thinking ‘well, I’m going to tell all these people what works for them.’”

Thanks to the cloud, “now you can add anyone, anywhere around the world, which is not only an efficiency of production…it’s a creative advantage” in terms of being able to collaborate with talent around the world, Kasanoff said.

“We’re at a time of extraordinary opportunity in the entertainment business right now,” according to Kasanoff, who served as an executive producer of “True Lies” and many other movies.

“The kind of movies I make, 10 years ago, grossed 70 percent of their money in the United States,” he said, adding: “Today, these same movies gross 28 percent of their money in the United States. But the absolute dollars are rising.”

He predicted that, “in a couple of years, they’ll gross under 20 percent of their income” from the U.S.

“Our focus as a company and me as a producer is to do one thing” and that’s “to make globally appealing movies and TV and animation – we do all three – that appeal” to audiences in China, the U.S., Europe and India, he said, noting he recently got back from India, where he was producing a project.

In order to create large money-generating movie franchises, a company must do three things, he went on to say: “You need to unite a production pipeline around the world. You need to share assets with all your franchise partners around the world…. And you need to be able to distribute it around the world.”

Therefore, “I think there has to be a world order of pipeline ubiquity the way everyone uses WhatsApp or WeChat, and I think it’s Azure” for global entertainment production, and “that’s what we’re working to do,” he told attendees.

He added: “This allows us to accomplish our goal of global appeal content that can be franchises.”

Sloss asked him what it was about the “distributed nature of cloud” that helped in the “actual mechanics of production.”

Kasanoff replied: “When we do animated movies now, we do pre- and post-production at our studios in Santa Monica. But we always do production somewhere around the world. Now, on the next one we’re about to announce, we’ll use the cloud.”

That’s because “there’s a million advantages to it,” including the fact that it “shaves two months off the schedule because the rendering time is so much quicker because we don’t render locally in the country we’re outsourcing to,” he said. That represents “a huge cost savings,” as well as “good efficiency and the rendering is better” also, he said.

As an added plus, cloud data centers are “extraordinarily secure,” Kasanoff said, stressing the importance of content security. It’s “virtually impossible” to hack into a data center like Azure’s, he said, adding: “Nothing’s 100 percent, but I think this is as close as you get.”

Meanwhile, shifting to the cloud solves another problem, according to Kasanoff, who said: “The scourge of anyone who does anything digital is tracking assets. It never works right. It’s always a mess and you’re always trying to figure out where the hell” an asset is. In the cloud, however, assets are secure, they aren’t lost, and you can always easily access them. That’s “extraordinarily relaxing, frankly, and it’s so much more efficient,” he said.

The cloud also enhances a production company’s distribution capabilities, Kasanoff said.

As an example, he pointed out Threshold’s Blackbelt TV linear martial arts channel, now available in 68 countries, is “about to switch” to subscription video on demand (SVOD). “We’re going to cease being a linear channel,” he said and one reason why, he explained, is: “We can deliver our signal…to anyone, anywhere in the world, for the same cost to us and the same quality to them because there are over 100 data centers. So, that means, all of a sudden, it’s the complete democratization of the audience.” Anybody who can afford to pay a small fee and has any smart device can now get his company’s content, regardless of what country they live in, he noted, calling that an “extraordinary game changer.”

Asked by Sloss if the industry will entirely shift to a “completely cloud-native production mode” in the near future, Kasanoff replied: “It’s coming. I don’t know the time element of it. But absolutely. It’s just so efficient and so smart and so better in every way…. Everyone’s doing it and it’s happening, so I completely think that’s the future.”

HITS Fall was sponsored by Amazon Web Services, Box, Microsoft Azure, Ooyala, TiVo, Cognizant, DXC Technology, Gracenote, LiveTiles, ThinkAnalytics, Wasabi, Aspera, EIDR, MicroStrategy, the Trusted Partner Network, human-I-T, Zaszou IT Consulting, OnPrem Solution Partners, and Bob Gold & Associates, and was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), in association with the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA), the Hollywood IT Society (HITS), the Smart Content Council and Women in Technology Hollywood (WiTH).