Thoughts on The Reluctant Revolution

[UPDATE: The sample size for the DPP report has now been revealed here. Just 15 production companies out of the 500+ that are in business in the UK were surveyed. Had this information been included in the report the findings would have been very much put into context. ]

On Tuesday the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), a consortium funded by the BBC, ITV and Channel4 released a report authored by workflow consultants Mediasmiths International. It is titled “The Reluctant Revolution – Breaking Down Barriers to Digital Production in TV”.

The report aims to:

“..assess how core technology trends in digital production, and specifically in storage, access and exploitation of content are affecting the production community, and what opportunities might exist both for suppliers and producers in making the digital revolution more achievable.”

With such a strong statement of intent I was looking forward to reading about the issues faced by production companies and seeing what solutions are being used or mooted. After reading through the report a number of times I have come to the conclusion that the report does indeed contain very good end user survey information but it seems to be very narrow in terms of the analysis and opinion provided. It lacks the depth I had expected.

The Very Good.

The report is concise and clear about the problems being faced by broadcasters, production companies and post facilities, it brings together the perceived problems with the some of the technical choices for solving the tapeless workflow and discusses them in an intelligent articulate manner.

The production of this report also signifies a shift in the collaboration between ‘competing’ entities. The right people are sitting at the table and it is good news for all concerned that the discussions are happening.  Much like the WIG events this is proof that the industry wants to have this conversation. The difference with WIG is that there was less of a vendor presence.

The meeting at Channel4 where the report was launched was also very good. The feedback from the many attendees was that the drive to bring about a better understanding of what the problems are and how to solve them can only be a positive move. A problem shared and all that!

The Not So Good.

The report is no silver bullet but then it is clearly not meant to be. It basically outlines the problems that need to be fixed as garnered from production companies and end users but disappointedly does not hint at a wider selection of the solutions on offer. Intentionally or not it throws up far more questions that it answers. If the report was merely a reflection of production company woes it would stand up to scrutiny but it is not. It also contains analysis and cost models based on what seems to be anecdotal data focusing only a limited set of the available technology solutions.

For instance, the TCO model of LTO is quite a bit off based on our research on total cost of ownership. Does the report take into consideration the elements as picked out by the storage community in our TCO blog?

• Media Rotation costs (tape and spindles)

• Verification of written data costs / proof of ongoing authenticity

• Replication cost (comms link vs manual actions)

• Employees required / costs / employee training/

• Annual value to company of assets being available online

I don’t think it does. The surveyed audience may well only have a single tape drive with a tonne of LTO5 in a box but the principles of data preservation remain. As we move to an IT centric workflow so must many of the data protection disciplines.

Standards

In terms of the standards set by the DPP this is where it will get a bit funky. Even if the standards are aimed at helping production companies to deliver content in a more efficient manner it is the vendors that will feel the pinch when it comes to providing solutions that help with that process.

In my telecoms background you did not put a piece of telecoms kit on the network if it did not conform. There were/are standards bodies and internal standards teams at each vendor. There are a number of implications of going down this route:

- All the members of the DPP need to keep playing nicely.

- Vendors will need to put more processes and resource in place in order to meet those standards.

- Production companies may start to see the cost of enterprise ready IT equipment.

The choice will need to be made between certified solutions or those that adhere to standards. The distinction is important. Choosing the former is likely to cause a lot of disruption.

Tech Choice

According to the report the suppliers to the DPP members are only looking at, or using LTO, USB Drives and the cloud to solve their problems. We and other disk based archive vendors know this is not 100% accurate. Given that we have production companies using MatrixStore or are considering using clustered storage it seems quite remiss to not mention it as a viable option to consider.

Also whilst the report focuses on, no highlights, some of the negatives of current cloud offerings (see this blogpost for our views on the subject) it does not go on to really discuss how some companies are trying to address those concerns nor does it suggest how collaborations between product and service providers could bring scalable, pay as you grow, hybrid models to reality. Further more there is no indication that there are solutions in use today by the worlds largest broadcasters, content providers, post facilities and, most importantly for this audience, Production companies that tackle these problems.

I guess I wanted to see a broader report that encompassed not just what is used today by a portion of the market but also what options might be out there.

The View From OM

Much like work of the Gilbert and George this report will provoke debate even if you love it or hate it and for that alone it is a very good thing. The report also cements the independent status the Mediasmiths have worked hard for. Friends and business can and do mix we just have to expect that every now and then our friends may say things we do not like, whether we believe them to be valid or not.

As I said more questions that answers. What is does highlight is that market is telling us there is a void to fill, perceived or not so I guess we had better go out there and keep on filling it. Clearly the message is not getting out to production companies that solutions are available, they are available now and being used by their peers. Time to sack the Marketing Director? Oh yes .. erm.


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