ITN Productions discusses its use of Sony’s Ci Media Cloud Platform built on AWS

ITN Productions is a London-based bespoke production hub producing creative content for the corporate, commercial, broadcast and digital sectors. This division of ITN was an early adopter of Sony’s Ci Media Cloud Platform built on Amazon Web Services platform, and according to Olly Strous, ITN’s head of post-production, that adoption has increased flexibility across all the operations of the company.

“We use Ci all the way from acquisition through to review and approval and then delivery, as well as secondary distribution. From our long-form TV broadcasts, short-form broadcasts, advertising production, branded content, corporate, digital news syndication and sport, to industry news, they all use Ci in slightly different ways.”

Taking the plunge

“In 2014 we were looking to give mobility to our workforce, to be able to do anything anywhere,” said Strous. Various solutions were trialled, such as file transfer sites and video content hosts, but they proved to be either inefficient, insecure or unnecessarily restrictive. The Sony CI Cloud platform offered the immediate advantage of being attuned to a media production workflow, having grown out of development at Sony Pictures.

“We were looking for a professional solution that could host lots of video in a coherent way and because we had so many departments, the security aspect was fundamental,” recalled Strous. “The fact that Ci was being used by major studios was obviously a great foundation for us. AWS has a reputation for being very reliable, so it’s a good choice of Cloud provider to partner with,” he said. “The Ci platform itself has been very solid.

“The platform is really intuitive to use. There was no real training needed, there were very few buttons that people could mess around with. It was just very simple.”

Global operation

A key driver for ITN Productions’ interest in Cloud was mobility, and that has certainly been delivered over the past five years. Ci gives users anywhere in the world access via a web browser to customised Workspaces on the platform, where all activity such as file transfers and content review takes place.

Assets for projects are shared and transported in a dedicated MediaBox, which act as smart containers within each Workspace. File transfers of full resolution content and proxies are supported by both Aspera (directly built into Ci) and Sony’s own accelerated HTTPS based solution.

“Being able to access the footage anywhere in the world and open it in a browser has really sped up how we work,” said Strous. “It means that somebody can sit at home and do a paper edit rather than spend time in an edit suite with an editor trawling through the rushes. Everything is at their fingertips, they can make decisions on the go, before they get into an expensive room.”

Client and legal reviews are also empowered, with comments and annotations in Ci VideoReview sessions automatically exported as NLE-ready markers and a printable PDF, allowing an editor to make any requested changes with pinpoint accuracy.

More flexibility can be found at the acquisition end. “Our short-form news and entertainment team have two of the Wi-Fi enabled Sony cameras,” explained Strous. “They go down to red-carpet events and make one-minute entertainment bulletins. Each clip is automatically pushed up to Ci as a proxy. Our team can sit in the office, review everything that’s coming in, and in some instances the proxy is good enough to publish straight to web. It means we can cost-effectively deliver content faster to web than some our competitors.”

All activity in Workspaces is logged, making it easy for ITN Productions to analyse usage metrics and bill their customers for exactly the services that they have used.

Open architecture

“Some of the biggest time savings have really come from the automation that we’ve wrapped around Ci enabled by its open API,” explained Strous. “With long-form production for example, incoming rushes are automatically ingested and stitched together as a QuickTime movie. The system uploads it to Sony Ci as a proxy and automatically generates a MediaBox that is sent to the appropriate people working on that project.

“As Ci has developed over time, we have pushed more of our content to the Cloud,” he continued. “When we finish a TV programme, the full resolution file goes up to a Completed Programmes Workspace within Ci. This is active storage so it can be used for our secondary distribution.

“For any programme sales, we can very quickly harness Ci to distribute that as a MediaBox. The client can then take advantage of Ci’s built in Aspera capability to download that full resolution MXF.

“We started with a single account and login,” concluded Strous. “I always encourage people to go and look at it. You can set up a free account and get a small amount of data to go and play with it. No infrastructure and no investment required, just pay as you go.”

ITN Productions’ sport credits include coverage of IAAF World Relays.

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