MEDCA Stresses the Importance of M&E Infrastructure at MESAverse Event

Media and entertainment organizations that haven’t significantly enhanced their infrastructures yet really need to get started or they may fall far behind their rivals, according to the Media and Entertainment Data Center Alliance (MEDCA), a new initiative focused on the sector’s infrastructure.

“MEDCA comes at a time when our industry’s 10-year roadmap for media and entertainment technology has been destroyed,” Lisa Griffin, executive director of MEDCA, said Oct. 21 while moderating the MEDCA/IT breakout panel session “MEDCA: A New Foundation for Data-Centric Workflows” during the Introducing the MESAverse event.

“2020 was the biggest year of advancing production and post-production technologies through the adoption of remote collaboration and global work from anywhere,” she told viewers at the start of the session.

Ninety percent of today’s M&E workflows are based on data-centric processes while the entertainment industry is mostly built on legacy platforms that were integrated out of necessity instead of through a structured engineered approach, according to MEDCA. Smart stages and remote connectivity, meanwhile, require industry standard build outs for interoperability and the long term evolution of the production process.

MEDCA says its mission is to provide continuing education, information and best practices to develop a good foundation for the explosive growth in M&E data centers that we’ll increasingly see coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our industry needs a trusted source of truth,” Griffin said. “We need to be prepared to implement cloud adoption, software applications integrated into production workflows, virtual production,” augmented reality (AR), extended reality (XR), artificial intelligence (AI), “as well as on-set, near-set and more,” she added.

A Self-Help Group

Eric Rigney, VP of MEDCA, reflected that he was trying to figure out how to describe the new group to his 90-year-old uncle. “I said ‘we’re basically a self-help group,’” he said with a laugh. “We’re in Hollywood, so we’re always trying to solve our problems.”

But the sector has “a problem in that we don’t understand that we have entered into a realm that is not something that we fully appreciate in that it’s a data center community,” he said. “We are data-centric and we’re not fully realizing that that’s the case. And we’ve entered into a realm where there are already standards and we’re not implementing them.”

What MEDCA is “hoping to do is bring in experts from the IT industry, open the door to the entertainment industry, and have these standards brought into our homes, our facilities,” he explained. “We are a standards consolidator. We’re not creating standards. We’re bringing in the standards that already exist and the best practices. We’re a service directory and we’re providing this with education and codes. We’re not a standards creator. We’re not providing direct services. We’re not insurance. We’re not SMPTE. We’re not ASC. We’re not sexy.”

Treading in Water

“What’s really difficult to understand is that we’re treading in water that is dangerous to our industry if we don’t pay attention,” Rigney warned. “In other words, what I’m finding is that in our facilities we make such easy mistakes. We’re stumbling over ourselves.”

And what is “kind of sad,” he said, is that “we’re not taking the issues that have been in IT for many, many years and then resolve them.” If there is a standard, it’s “because a problem existed and the problem’s been solved – and we’re recreating our own problems and we don’t have to,” he told viewers.

When it comes to standards, he said: “We’re not talking about color bars. We’re not talking about speaker placement…. What we are talking about is the telecommunications industry and we’re talking about Uptime Institute,” as well as the National Electrical Code (NEC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

“When you look at just the simple installation of a door and all the complexities around it, you begin to understand what’s involved in building a data center if you want to do it in a way where you’re protected,” Rigney noted.

“What you don’t want to do is to paint yourself into a corner and that’s what’s been happening. We sort of build on what we’ve done in video, [but] video and data centers are not the same,” he pointed out.

MEDCA’s plan is to “take all of these different standards and take out the portions that exist” but don’t relate to what we’re doing, he said. Therefore, “you don’t have to read all the books and become an expert in every aspect of these standards,” he explained. “What MEDCA is talking about doing is parsing just these elements that are specific to our industry.”

This is going to be a cooperative initiative, he went on to say, noting the plan is to build a dialog across key stakeholders.

One reason why it’s important to collaborate with key stakeholders in the sector is “these people know what we’re up against,” he explained. “They know what the issues are that we’re facing and going to face, and it behooves us to listen to what they have to say. And also it’s a dialogue so they have to listen to what we have to say so that we are working together.”

The Importance of Education

“If we don’t do this, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Rigney told viewers. “If, as a facility, you don’t take advantage of the information that’s out there, then you’re making yourself prey to the next thing that’s coming around,” he warned.

Through education, MEDCA will demonstrate there are “risks involved if we don’t do this,” he said. “If a facility isn’t prepared to adopt these new technologies – if their foundation isn’t ready for it – then they can get left behind quite easily,” he warned.

“What we’re talking about doing is offering memberships and certifications [and] authorizations,” he went on to tell viewers. Through the contributions of their memberships, MEDCA will work with authorized training centers, certified installers and auditing and certified installations, he said.

There are several MEDCA membership levels, including founding, board and contributing members.

Preparing for Today and Tomorrow

“The crazy thing is it costs just as much to do it correctly as to do it incorrectly,” Rigney told viewers, adding this initiative will help prepare M&E companies for today and tomorrow.

“Right now, we don’t have a lot of AI in our industry,” as well as machine learning and big data – “but it’s around the corner,” he pointed out.

“So if we don’t prepare for that type of bandwidth, that type of processing, then we wind up putting ourselves in a situation where we have to rip out what we just installed and build new,” he warned.

“But, if we do it properly, if we understand what’s coming around the corner…. If we take these knowns and build our data centers accordingly then that’s going to help minimize the cost” in the long run, he said.

A Reliable, Unbiased M&E Source

“What we’re hoping to become is a reliable, unbiased M&E source,” according to Rigney.

Noting that a data center can be small or large, he said: “What we’re looking for is creating a place – a space where studios, facilities, small mom and pop shops can come and inquire to find out what they need to be prepared for, what they should be looking at so that it’s a safe place to get your information that’s been parsed out and focused on our needs.”

There are, meanwhile, various standards compliance benefits, he said, pointing to the fact that it can be costly to ignore risk mitigation (liability and security) and reliability and efficiencies.

MEDCA is also out to mitigate downtime, file corruption, equipment failures, infrastructure irrelevance, limited interconnectivity or lifespan, code violations and insurance claim denials, he noted.

It is imperative that M&E organizations not wait for disasters to happen before they start caring about these issues. That’s like buying an alarm system after you’ve been robbed, he said.

The Growth of Virtual Production

“On-set virtual production is huge right now” and growing and it is “packed with data-centric processes,” including the camera tracking and LED lighting, Rigney said, noting virtual production is expected to grow 1,000% in the next 18 months.

When it comes to video shoots now, he said: “We act like it’s a video shoot and it’s not. It’s so data-centric. It’s insane to pretend that it’s anything other than that.”

Those organizations who prepare for the future “will be the winners,” he predicted.

“Data centers are already here. They’ve infiltrated our industry and our processes in every corner, every facet, and to ignore it, we do so at our own peril,” he warned.

“If you want to be in a more healthy environment for yourself, for your operation, for your future, it just makes sense that we work together as a community, working with the IT people and, together, putting ourselves in a sweet spot,” he said.

Eighty to 90% of our business now is “all IT-related,” according to Sean Tajkowski, technical director and co-founder of MEDCA, along with Guy Finley, who also serves as MEDCA treasurer.

Agreeing that “we’re in the data industry now, Tajkowski said, predicting: “The future, with edge technology… is going to be a tremendous change to our industry.”

“Because we’re data-centric now, we need to start looking at the data and telecommunications industry closer,” he added.

Rigney concluded the session by imploring viewers: “Don’t let your infrastructure hold you back,.. If you do it right, it won’t hold you back.”