Television and internet production, from Shutterstock
At IBC, one of the things that caught my eye was around how prevalent things like “workflow” and “ecosystem” were on the exhibit floor. Such logistics have always been part of the conversation at shows like NAB and IBC, but seeing how prominent they are becoming is a new development.
No doubt that has something to do with technology like 4K and HDR. If we’re now dealing with single frames that are over 75 MB in a production environment, the ability to deal with that data at every stage of a project is essential if you don’t want to run into crippling bottlenecks. SaaS (software as a service) products that allow you to send and move data wherever it needs to go are essential in that endeavor.
These are the sort of problems that impact the major studios just as much as they impact tiny post houses, although the resources for both of those environments are obviously different. That’s why it was so great to hear that products like Signiant’s Flight and Media Shuttle are being leveraged by companies working at those different scales in virtually the same way. But how is it that the same product can be utilized in both environments?
To find out, I talked with Rick Clarkson from Signiant. We discussed what stood out to him at IBC, how a major studio can be using essentially the same product as a small post house, what he’s seen are common struggles when it comes to these workflow/storage logistics and plenty more.
ProVideo Coalition: I laid out my own thoughts about some of the things that stood out about IBC this year, but what was your impression of the show? Anything that surprised you this year, either on the show floor or in the conversations you were having?
Rick Clarkson: One of things that’s been pretty consistent at the last couple NAB and IBC shows is the interest in cloud storage. As time moves on, there’s just more and more interest in the cloud. When we first came out with our cloud products a few years ago we had plenty of interested customers, but we also had some people saying they had no interest in cloud or SaaS. That has changed in a big way, and it continues to change. It’s exciting to see people embracing that technology.
Do you think the initial security concerns people had about the cloud in terms of where their content was going and what was going to happen to it have been alleviated?
I think they’re being reassured. Over the past few years the cloud vendors have listened to the industry. There are more and more tools for reporting and maintenance to help alleviate those concerns about security. So I think the cloud vendors have done a nice job there.
A lot of it has been driven by competition in the cloud. A few years ago we had Amazon (AWS), but now we have Microsoft, Google, Oracle and Verizon, just to name a few. There are a lot of vendors in this space, and that competition has done a couple important things. It’s driven the prices down, which is good for people consuming these services, but it’s also forced the incumbent vendors to up their game in terms of features and functions. So a lot of positive aspects have emerged.
As a result of all this, the media companies – and that includes the broadcasters and studios all the way down to the post houses – are adopting a lot of these services.
Tell us about your part in the paradigm shift at Signiant that led to the company’s conversion from a perpetual software setup into a leading SaaS supplier. How did that change come about for Signiant?
When we looked a few years ago at transitioning a piece of our business to SaaS, we saw that we had historically been very successful in what I would call the high end of the market – the large studios, broadcasters and media services companies. But when we looked at the industry as a whole, we saw a lot of potential for our solution with mid-market businesses. We knew those types of organizations could take advantage of our technology to solve their problems, but we didn’t have a package or price point in our product to address that. So that was part of the impetus in terms of transitioning and repackaging some of our technology. We wanted to address these markets.
The media industry is pretty interesting, because it’s an industry where a company like Disney, for example, who is a major player in the space, can have thousands of partners/vendors, and some of those can be five or ten person post houses. So these massive companies need to be able to effectively work with much smaller ones, and the available resources for both sets of organizations are obviously going to be very different. We knew we could solve some of the problems that came up in those interactions; we just needed to package the product a little bit differently.
SaaS enabled us to get people started at a lower price point, and that opened doors across the industry. We’ve allowed companies to maintain their ecosystem, regardless of whom they’re working with, up and down the media supply chain. That goes from production to post to distribution, and this SaaS technology is being used by the large companies in addition to mid-market ones.
That leads us into what I wanted to focus on, because it means the tools a major studio and a tiny production house use are the same, the only difference is the scale they use those tools on. How is that possible?
There are a couple things that make it possible.
One of those is a product portfolio that works together. We essentially have three products in our portfolio: Managers+Agents, which has traditionally been for larger corporate accounts, Media Shuttle and Flight. The product operability between all of them allows them to be used in different ways, by different people.
The other thing that’s helped is that even the big guys can get started with a small implementation of a product like Media Shuttle, and that actually happens quite often. We’re so confident in the work we’ve done from a usability standpoint and from general ease-of-use that we know once we get a product in someone’s hands they’ll love it. From there the usage expands.
Also, we have some enterprise-style packages for the large companies that provide some functionality that smaller companies might not need. They’re things like enterprise scale, and single sign-on so that enterprises can easily onboard and manage large numbers of users. Those are features that only the large companies need, and we can make those capabilities available in Media Shuttle if necessary to large customers. We don’t bog down smaller installations with that functionality because it isn’t necessary.
How does this approach impact users logistically?
The message has always been that we can “right size” our product for anyone. Regardless of who you are, you’re using the same engine and a lot of the same underlying technology, it’s just packed in a way to include the functionality that fits the given business size. It’s ultimately the same product, but if you go up to an enterprise level you’re getting a little bit more functionality.
We’ve got a product that can go up and down market, and we’ve been able to find the overlap of functionality and overlap it in different ways to work up and down the supply chain. That’s something users can see and experience in a real way.
Do any of your clients express concerns about this arrangement? Are bigger customers uneasy about the fact they aren’t getting what they’re paying for, or are smaller ones thinking they’re being charged for something that isn’t necessary?
We don’t really get that kind of feedback, because our customers get what they pay for, and that works out for them, regardless of the scale they’re working at.
You can get started with Media Shuttle, for instance, pretty inexpensively. As you scale up it costs more in total, but the cost for the individual user is less. Media Shuttle starts out a $50 per user per month, but if you’re using a ten, 100 or 200 person system, the price point per user drops pretty dramatically. Many of the large companies come right out and say they aren’t interested in paying $50 a month for each user, and that’s fine because they’re buying at a higher volume, so they aren’t paying anywhere close to that.
It’s the best of both worlds for both sets of users, because the bigger customers are getting a better price based on their usage while some of the smaller companies are able to access and use the tool at a total cost that makes sense for their business.
Have people’s expectations around workflow and storage changed over the past few years?
Let’s talk about workflow first. Three or four years ago, I would say workflow was a common “theme” or “trend”. If you were utilizing a workflow, everyone wanted to find out what your workflow solution was. Now, automation and workflow are pretty core to most vendors, so it isn’t such a big deal anymore because it’s just assumed that you have it. Now, everyone has something that would fall into “workflow”. I’m not even a big fan of the term “workflow” because it can mean so many different things.
From a storage or cloud standpoint, as we talked about earlier, the trends are moving toward cloud and SaaS. The market is moving in that direction, which means users now ask for and expect the benefits associated with these platforms. Those expectations will continue to influence the way these tools are developed as well as what sort of capabilities they’re designed to possess.
Is there a common denominator around the companies you’ve seen getting into trouble around workflow and storage?
Companies tend to get themselves in trouble whenever their approach is to try and automate everything. In theory that sounds great, but it’s just not practical. That mentality generally overcomplicates projects or products, so everyone needs to find that right balance in terms of what’s enough when it comes to automation. You want enough automation to decrease your costs and increase your top-line, but you don’t want to customize everything to the point that no one knows what is going on. It can be a tough sweet spot to hit.
That sweet spot varies from company to company and project to project, and that’s why it’s so important to figure out that “right-size”. You can easily overcomplicate things or find that the solution you’re using isn’t working. You can easily over-engineer solutions like asset management systems and make them complicated to the point that you have a bunch of custom products with a tiny market size.
The goal is to automate “enough” so that you provide some real value without overcomplicating the use and deployment.
How do you see your products continuing to evolve in and influence the industry?
There’s no shortage of items and tasks that we want and need to do in our product line. We have plenty of work to do, and there’s always more we can do. It’s software, so it’s never done, and things to change. We just announced at IBC that Media Shuttle now supports cloud storage, because when we first launched it people didn’t want to store their content in cloud, but now they do. So we’re responding to the market, and the wants and needs of the market will continue to develop.
What’s the best way for a professional to figure out whether or not they need to re-evaluate their approach when it comes to workflow and storage?
I talk to customers every week, and they tell me what they like, what they need, what they want to see, etc. Vendors have a lot of information, so whether you’re a media service provider, post house, broadcaster or studio, you can and should have a conversation with a vendor, because they have a lot of data your individual company or organization probably doesn’t have. A broadcaster or post house understands their industry, but they can talk to a vendor and get input on what ten other broadcasters or post houses are doing. Specific company names and solutions are protected in these kinds of conversations, but knowing about the trends and happenings even in a general sense can be incredibly powerful.
The best thing you can do is ask questions. You want to be able to ask what other companies in your business are doing, and figure out what is or isn’t working– and the vendors have those answers. Working and trusting the vendors is essential. Companies shouldn’t treat those vendors as suppliers but as partners. They can offer a lot of information which can help you figure out real-world solutions.