Producing under pressure with help from Microsoft

As the Covid-19 pandemic threatened to bring content production to a halt, Rainer Kellerhals discusses how Microsoft tools have helped media companies to adapt to new ways of working

Alex Smith
By Alex Smith on 20 July 2021
Producing under pressure with help from Microsoft
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The Covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption across almost all industries, and this has been no different in the field of content production. With demand for content only continuing to grow, the pressure to adapt quickly to the new ways of working that the pandemic necessitated was particularly high. Plans for the adoption of new technologies, particularly those enabled by the cloud, had to be accelerated quickly.

Such was the impact, says Rainer Kellerhals, managing director of media and communications EMEA at Microsoft, that there was a potential for the industry to be forced into a complete stop.

“It has impacted content production massively, in some cases to a point that production was in danger of grinding to a halt,” says Kellerhals. “Picture this – creative staff in publishing, TV and film production, and in advertising who had been using high-powered workstations in their companies’ offices to edit graphics, videos, and layouts, and who had met with editors-in-chief, with directors, or with their clients at these offices to review the finished content and get it approved, from one day to the next couldn’t access these offices and these workstations anymore.

Similarly, studios for live-action TV and film production had to shut down, stopping many ongoing production projects. It’s fair to say that the pandemic caused a major business disruption for content production in TV and filmmaking, and at the least jeopardised content creation in all media verticals.”

Media24 had planned to migrate 4,000 Office 365 accounts with only four months to plan before the pandemic hit, complicating an already difficult task. The South African media company had planned the migration for a single three-day holiday weekend, with extensions beyond that window likely to pose a risk to the company’s publishing operations, including newspapers, magazines and digital media. Microsoft Consulting Services helped the company move training and migration guidance to a virtual environment, implement best practices for adoption and change management and create Power BI dashboards to keep executives informed, among other tasks.

“We thought Microsoft Consulting Services was essential to this project before the pandemic blew up our plans,” says Tobie Vermeulen, chief information officer of Media24, in a Microsoft story about the project. “After that, there was no way we would consider doing this without Microsoft. The migration to a new tenant paves the way for a much broader transformation for an increasingly digital world at Media24. It gives us a clean slate to implement best practices for security so we can use Azure and the internet in more innovative ways while keeping our infrastructure and data safe.”

Media24 is one example of how media companies had to move quickly to address this unprecedented challenge, completely reinventing the way in which they work and produce content.

“For many of them, the first step was adopting cloud-based collaboration, communications, and productivity tools like Microsoft 365 and specifically Microsoft Teams to enable remote work scenarios,” says Kellerhals. “Then, they looked to also enable remote work scenarios for core creative workflows like video and photo editing. By uploading their content to the cloud, media companies could make their content accessible from anywhere. And by hosting their content creation tools on Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) and providing remote access to these VMs via Azure Virtual Desktop, their creative staff could not only access the content, but edit it with the same powerful tools they had been using in their offices from pretty much anywhere, on any device.”

Microsoft Azure provides a range of services that can help to support content production, both during and after the pandemic. Azure ExpressRoute provides a powerful solution for content ingestion, allowing organisations to extend their on-premises networks into the Microsoft cloud over a private connection with the help of a connectivity provider and upload content across the world. Content processing services like media workflow platform Azure Media Services provide a way to index, package, protect and stream video at scale, with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities enhancing content discoverability and performance. Multiple storage tiers tailored to meet media company’s specific needs for storing work-in-progress and archived content are also available.

Advertising company WPP is taking advantage of these capabilities with the launch of Cloud Studio, a cloud platform that allows creative teams from across WPP’s global network to produce campaigns from any location around the world. The platform will enable greater collaboration and more efficient content production by providing easier access and visibility into content via advanced Azure AI-powered indexing of metadata from a central location accessible from anywhere, at any time.

Furthermore, Azure will enable WPP to scale up and down its storage needs as new client projects begin and end, reducing spend by utilising more cost-efficient cloud storage once a project is archived, while Azure DevOps and GitHub will enable WPP to quickly provision new instances of Cloud Studio based on need.

“Technology is what powers WPP’s creativity; it allows us to realise our ideas, uncover insights and embrace innovative ways of working,” said Mark Read, CEO of WPP, in a Microsoft article about the partnership. “The pandemic has shown how WPP teams can successfully collaborate to create extraordinary work for our clients, all while being physically apart. Partnering with Microsoft on Cloud Studio is the next step in our journey to arm creative teams with the latest in cutting-edge production tools, and draw upon the best talent, regardless of where they are.”

The demand for ever-growing amounts of content is unlikely to slow down in the coming years. With many content production and distribution processes already digitised, the industry is ahead of many others in its digital transformation. However, companies will have to remain flexible and continue looking for opportunities to optimise their operations if they are to keep up with the pace of change.

“Many media companies have struggled to use new technologies like the cloud, big data and AI to their advantage,” says Kellerhals. “At the same time, almost all media companies have been impacted by the emergence of new competitors, especially cloud-native entrants. Microsoft, together with our partner ecosystem, is helping media companies to leverage the cloud, data and AI to streamline content production, enhance creativity and collaboration, optimise content delivery and discovery, transform audience and content intelligence, and reimagine and monetise content experiences.” 

Partner perspective
The Record asked Microsoft Gold partner Crossware how it has used the services available in Microsoft Azure to help produce media content.

“We have leveraged many tools and services available in Microsoft Azure to power and enable our award-winning Crossware Email Signature Solution,” said Peter Molyneux, general manager at Crossware. “Built on the Azure platform using cutting edge design methodologies, the Crossware team have been able to deliver a truly world-leading and unique Email Signature Designer.

“This dynamic and intelligent Signature Designer enables organisations to supercharge their email communications to both their customers and internal staff. They can transform the ordinary email into powerful and engaging communication that not only looks amazing but conveys their message in a dynamic way. Using our unique Signature Blocks, media content such as banners and corporate imagery can be added to every email communication. With Crossware Mail Signature organisations take control of their corporate email communications and media content.” 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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