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Why the future of content production is in cloud storage

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The streaming services market is flourishing, with many established entertainment brands now rushing to create their own platforms, such as HBO Max and NBC’s Peacock. Having failed to capitalise on a sector that’s been dominated by Netflix, major players are now making huge investments to claim market share. 

And of course, tech giants want their piece of the pie too - following in Amazon’s footsteps, Apple recently launched Apple TV+. It seems to be a gamble that’s paying off, with Apple TV+ helping drive the tech giant’s services revenues up to $12.7 billion - a 17% year-over-year increase.

To acquire and retain users, these platforms need to licence, and increasingly, produce huge swathes of content. And today, developing and deploying that content requires that teams all around the world have access to high-resolution video content of up to 8K. The complexity of production is also ramping up, as producers and vendors serving the sector transition to real-time cross-country collaboration between teams.

For large streaming companies and production companies alike, it has never been more important to implement an effective data storage solution.

Data demands are soaring 

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Recent industry research points out that creating and distributing content is defined by five separate workflows. Each of these workflows requires high volumes of data capture, along with an increased need for multi-party access and collaboration. 

For an example workflow, we can look at pre-production, which involves data-intensive processes like the testing of new film-making technologies and the creation of previsuals of scenes. Likewise in post-production, VFX notoriously requires huge amounts of data

Moving content through each of these workflows and between the various teams of executives, creatives, and vendors demands a lot of copying and transferring of files. This is very time consuming, and can lead to duplications and accidental deletions. Compressed timelines for producing VFX shots, along with their sheer quantity, compound storage demand - for example, the first season of Netflix’s “The Witcher” contained just under 2,000 VFX shots created over a period of just 6 months.

LTO has become a major financial concern for producers

All of this data needs to be stored for the long-run, and it also needs to be available for quick access by all parties along workflows. For these reasons, it’s unsurprising that a major challenge for production companies and vendors is in creating a resilient and cost-effective storage strategy.

The traditional storage technology used by production companies has been the Linear Tape-Open (LTO) magnetic tape storage standard. However, LTO has become a major financial concern for producers. While LTO tape manufacturers have claimed the total cost of LTO ownership to be around $1/TB/mo, recent analysis by Technicolor, a large production company based in LA, showed these costs actually approach $7/TB/mo. 

The ability to store large amounts of raw footage, rough cuts as well as the finished product in a highly secure, reliable and economical environment is a primary industry concern Currently, LTO doesn’t offer a viable solution. Rather, with the demand for data growing and real-time collaboration on projects increasing, the only economical answer is to consolidate data repositories in fast cloud infrastructure

What cloud solutions mean for the industry

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To start with, content producers and deployment platforms must change their approach from a capital expenditure model (CAPEX) to an operating expenditure (OPEX) model of storage facilities. 

Because pay-as-you-go cloud storage solutions can be scaled up indefinitely, they allow content producers to increase their storage capacity as and when needed, avoiding needless costs. Much of the industry is following this path already, and it’s estimated that cloud storage use across the media and entertainment sector will grow thirteenfold between 2017 and 2023.

Rather than treating data as a commodity we can treat data as a utility

This transition doesn’t have to be costly, either. There are specialist cloud providers who specifically work to avoid storage tiering and egress fees, which means creators don’t have to worry about when and how much data they take in and out of the cloud. Rather than treating data as a commodity - as is the case with LTO - we can treat data as a utility, just like water or electricity.

With competition heating up between streaming providers, we can expect the production of original content to accelerate. A well-designed cloud storage strategy means entertainment and production companies can work more efficiently and free up more space in their budget, ultimately giving them more time and resources to create compelling content for the public.

By David Friend, CEO & Co-founder, Wasabi Technologies

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