This post is the first in a series that will explore cloud video collaboration and currently available solutions, possible substitutes, and their tradeoffs. I will start by presenting an overview of cloud video collaboration and the capabilities it should make available in order to fully realize its potential. Subsequent posts will dig in to currently available cloud video collaboration services as well as substitutes to cloud-based services for video collaboration.
Video production is, if nothing else, a collaborative process. Every step of the way, from development, through pre-production, production and post-production involves multiple people collaborating to define and realize the vision for the project. In all steps of this process there is the potential for time and money to be wasted as a result of failed communication.
Cloud video production platforms look to offer improved operational efficiency for the video production process, leveraging the economies of scale and distributed nature of cloud computing. Once realized, these platforms will allow producers to reduce production costs by streamlining communication, enabling remote access thereby making it easier to tap into the global talent pool and by parallelizing compute intensive tasks.
The reality of cloud video production today is a long way from the promise and there are challenges around bandwidth availability and reliability that need to be solved before the envisioned benefits can be realized. Nonetheless, there are some areas within cloud video production where the today's reality is close enough to the promise to warrant a closer look.
Collaborative Video Workflow
Cloud video collaboration, in its broadest sense, refers to any of the communication around video assets that occurs during the production process. While cloud video collaboration platforms may well be useful during all phases of a video production project, they are particularly well suited to the production and post-production phases. To the extent that communication in these phases can be made more efficient there are savings to be had.
When we think about the steps involved in making a cloud video collaboration succeed, we can identify four questions that we will need to answer.
How Will Assets be Distributed to Team Members?
Digital footage, graphics, transcripts and other supporting documents need to be shared between team members. The types of assets and how they are shared and collaborated upon will either save or waste both time and money. With the increasing reliance on digital technology, there are efficiencies to be realized by eliminating analog to digital conversions and by greatly reducing the time it takes to send an asset anywhere in the world.
The question then is how should these assets be distributed? A video collaboration platform can provide an efficient user interface for uploading and distributing assets, but an equally important piece of the puzzle is the quality and amount of bandwidth available to the team members. Collaboration on small files such as graphics is much more resilient to occasional network hiccups, but when it comes to downloading larger files or streaming video a reliable network with sufficient bandwidth is a must.
How Will Playback Compatibility be Ensured?
Getting video assets into the hands of other team members is the first step to collaborating on them. With that taken care of, the next potential hurdle is playback. Playback issues are a nuisance to say the least. Each computing platform has its own preferred container formats and codecs. To further complicate matters, when third party playback software is required, team members may be prevented from installing it as a result of stringent corporate security policies.
If you're distributing video assets using a straight forward file transfer service, then you're forced assume the complexity of understanding the playback capabilities of your team members and ensuring that any videos that are distributed are encoded accordingly. In a tightly controlled environment this may work well enough, but forgetting to set an option properly during encoding and you will end up distributing a digital paperweight and burning through some of the time and money you were hoping to save.
The challenge of ensuring playback compatibility is compounded by people's desire to use mobile devices to view project videos anywhere, anytime. What looks good on the desktop may not work on a smartphone. Encoding for mobile playback is difficult due to the wide variety of screen sizes and device capabilities.
How Will Communication be Made Efficient?
On any given project, you and the other team members are busy with the project itself and with the rest of your lives. Communicating changes needs to be clear, concise and efficient. In addition, communication about a particular asset needs to be properly organized for the communication to be efficient.
The commonly used approach of collaborating via email messages and phone calls can work for smaller projects, but when team members are remote from one another, it can be difficult to efficiently assemble the varied communications into a definitive task list.
How Will the Final Cut be Published?
Now post-production is complete, your client has signed off and all that's left is to publish the final cut. While not a concern for all projects, many projects will involve web delivery - it could be of a trailer for a larger work or it could be the primary purpose of the project in the case of a commercial.
Manually uploading the final cut to each of a number of web video channels is nothing more than busy work that can be streamlined by a video collaboration platform. By this point, the final cut has already been uploaded to the video collaboration platform and it is just a matter of specifying the destination channels.
What Should a Cloud Video Collaboration Platform Look Like?
Now that we have established a frame of reference for what a collaborative video workflow needs to consider, let's take a look at what this means for cloud video collaboration platforms.
Cloud Video Collaboration Platforms Need to be Reliable
First and foremost, cloud video collaboration platforms need to be reliable. Video production timelines and budgets are tight and introducing delays and uncertainty is simply not going to fly. Fortunately, with the ready availability of reliable PaaS offerings, suppliers are not in a position of needing to reinvent the foundation of their own offerings while being able to leverage the technical expertise of these larger IT providers.
On top of that there are a number of Content Delivery Networks (CDN) that can help ensure speedy asset distribution most anywhere in the world.
Cloud Video Collaboration Platforms Need to be Secure
At the core of a cloud video collaboration is the private and secure sharing of video. Whether the producer is primarily concerned with pre-release leaks or the content itself is of a sensitive nature, there needs to be confidence that only those people who have been granted access will be able to view project videos.
Unfortunately, while a cloud video collaboration platform can authenticate users and only allow them access to authorized content, it is not able to prevent someone from sharing their password. In light if this, cloud video collaboration platforms need to track who sees what content for auditing purposes.
Cloud Video Collaboration Platforms Need to be Device Agnostic
In today's world of smartphones and the mobile internet freeing workers from their cubicles, a full featured mobile experience is a necessity for any serious application. We're all busy and an opportunity to quickly connect and wrap up a last minute task or two while on the commute home is expected.
A cloud video collaboration platform should take care to ensure that videos you upload can be played back successfully on as wide a range of devices as possible. It should also accept input video in whatever container format and codec you currently use, and take care of transcoding videos into the needed formats for the broadest playback. Time wasted as a result of playback issues should be eliminated by a cloud video collaboration platform.
Cloud Video Collaboration Platforms Need to Centralize Communication
Email, phone calls and in-person conversations are not likely to go away. Unfortunately such a fragmented means of communication will require team members to reassemble the varied communications into a coherent understanding of what they need to do to get the project to the next stage.
A cloud video collaboration platform can reduce or eliminate time consumed reconstituting fragmented communications by centralizing communication about project assets. With all team members able to see and participate in the ongoing conversation, there should be fewer questions as to what is to be done next.
Cloud Video Collaboration Platforms Need to be Simple
There is a lot of complexity to be managed as part of a video production project. There is also a lot of complexity to uploading assets, transcoding them for multiple devices and centralizing communication. The difference between the two is that, as a video producer, you shouldn't have to worry about the latter.
Making use of a cloud video collaboration platform must, as with any automation project, pay for itself by helping video producers to realize increased efficiencies in their video production business. If a cloud video collaboration platform requires so much administration that this is not the case, then it is of little value to the video producer.
Further, the platform must be simple and intuitive enough that people who are invited to collaborate on a production can get started without any special training. The platform should make tasks simpler for all participants, not just the person administering a project.
Cloud Video Collaboration Platforms Need to Present Your Brand
Every business and professional needs to be concerned with how their brand is presented to the marketplace. With a cloud video collaboration platform sitting between you and your clients, it's important that your brand be presented in properly. Ideally your clients should not be exposed to advertising for other services, or distracting links to videos that aren't part of your project.
The whole point of a brand is to be able to create significant perceived value such that the brand can capture inflated profits relative to what they could were they not a brand.
The market for cloud video collaboration platforms is an emerging market and a diverse one with different sized production studios having different needs and budgets. It is expected that there will be a number of solutions brought forward to address the needs of different segments of the market.
For video producers, the bottom line is that the right cloud video collaboration platform should help them to get video projects completed in less time and with less cost, allowing them to defend their margins as the addressable market for video production becomes more global over time.