IBC Q&A: Pronology co-founder Jon Aroesty
Pronology is coming off a big summer in which its digital-asset–management platform played a major role in Fox Sports’ production of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Fox Sports built two large-scale temporary broadcast compounds in Vancouver to cover the event in the best possible fashion: the studio, which included a control room and playback area built in scenic Jack Poole Plaza, and a transmission center, co-located with FIFA’s International Broadcast Coordination Center (IBCC). All editing staff and associated infrastructure were located in Los Angeles. The edit workload was large enough to require two separate locations: the Fox Pico facility in Los Angeles and J/Kam in Burbank, CA, each with dedicated storage. With Pronology serving as the backbone of the system, all users had immediate access to proxy files for viewing and logging, whatever the location of the hi-res media.
SVG took a moment at IBC to sit down with Pronology co-founder Jon Aroesty to discuss the epic production, how it can serve as a use case for other multisite sports productions, and how the industry is taking notice of Pronology at IBC.
Can you describe how the Pronology platform works?
It’s all about acquisition, management, distribution, and archive of digital media assets. We handle, at the front end, ingest of baseband video signals. We control hardware devices, third-party devices, or our own devices for encoding, and we work with most of the major manufacturers of those products. We handle our own transcode on ingest, and then we do management of media through the main three NLE [systems] — [Apple] Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid [Media Composer] — integration. For distribution, we work with some of the third-party distribution [vendors] for social-media posting and archive all the way down to archive and restore.
It’s an asset-management system, but what is unique about the system is that we are ahead of the media. We can create metadata prior to even the media creation. So it’s an asset-management system and a metadata-management system in that regard as well.
Pronology played a major role in Fox Sports’ massive production of the FIFA Women’s World Cup over the summer. Can you explain a bit about what you did?
In that particular case, the primary [international broadcast center] was in Vancouver, and Fox wanted to do postproduction in Los Angeles and at a couple different venues. So we came up with a mechanism to identify where their media resides. That is relevant because it gives the user — whether it’s the end user or a producer or an editor sitting in an edit bay — the ability to know where the media’s actually located that they’re dealing with. And, despite the fact that we like to say that we have these unlimited pipes, we know the reality is, that is not the case. It becomes dwindled down by the time it’s allocated to the different users in a production like that.
That is now part of the system. So, depending on how you acquire media, you can identify it with that flag to say where it resides. Then, we will be able to automatically determine the fastest place to get the media from, whether there’s a huge pipe that goes up to Vancouver or maybe it’s sitting on a nearline or offline deep archive even locally. The system may prompt you to pick this up locally because it’s going to take longer to transfer from that venue.
Our feeling is, the cloud is really a great tool but let’s get it working in our own facilities or venues in a controlled environment first. And so this takes us into that step organically by saying, ”Let’s try and do a better job of being aware of what’s going on inside the cloud rather than just having this big, huge special area where media resides. Let’s know exactly where the space is located so we can deal with it more efficiently.”
We had the venue in Los Angeles, which we identify with a little icon, and there was a postproduction facility out in Burbank that was identified with another icon that was our feed from Vancouver. So the editors in any of these facilities know they were working with an edit resolution right now, but their hi-res media was located in a different location so was going to take longer to up-res.
We also deal with file import in the postproduction process. In the case of the Women’s World Cup, Fox had live-acquisition venues at the IBC in Vancouver, but that was only part of what we did. The other, probably, 70% of media was file-based import. So they shot every flavor you could imagine. RED 5K, AVC XDCAM, everything in the world: we brought all that in and put it into one user-friendly environment for access. At that point, it didn’t matter where it came from, so that was kind of a hybrid of live production and postproduction.
The World Cup seems like an ideal use case for Pronology, but can you foresee the system being used more on daily or weekly events?
Absolutely. We’ve had reality[-TV] clients that have international presence in the UK and Los Angeles that are trying to become more efficient in terms of their postproduction and their production. If you have huge storage arrays in one location and you have postproduction that’s not doing anything, even if it’s on the other side of the world, you might as well take advantage of that time and, potentially, labor that’s sitting there and utilize that for a production that’s going on someplace else. So this technology will allow you to identify where that media is and keep track of it in that environment.
Since Pronology is all about customizing and creating unique workflows for its users, is there a specific demand or trend you are seeing from your sports clients right now?
What’s the first thing that most of these broadcasters look at? What’s it going to cost? How can we do this cheaper and better and more efficiently and keep the quality up and keep the viewership up? In the case of the [Women’s World Cup], Fox saved on costs by not having to travel as many people to location. Part of the reason for that was, we were able to work multinationally and keep staff and infrastructure located at its home base. There’s a huge advantage there especially if we can create a workflow environment that is transparent to being onsite or not.