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Post-Pandemic Storytelling: The New Fault Tolerance

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As broadcasters are in various states of ramping up their main facilities again, questions remain as to how things will change or stay the same as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Will broadcasters and visual storytellers go back to their normal production workflows? Potentially. It is, after all, human nature to return to the familiar.

But there is a very clear, critical lesson to be learned from 2020. Returning to normal will fail us again because we weren’t properly prepared for our systems to fail. What does that mean? The idea of fault tolerance has been around for decades, but COVID-19 has completely and drastically altered it forever. Previously, fault tolerance—from engineering to video production—meant having a backup system ready to go to when a workflow component went down. Backup studios, backup production switchers, backup cameras, backup power cables, and so on.

But what we recently learned is that not every disaster can be mitigated that way. And the ones who were most prepared for a global pandemic to shutter workplaces and production houses were those who were dipping into the realm more commonly called “streaming media.”

The New Definition of Fault Tolerance

What fault tolerance means in the new normal will largely be about flexibility. The way we began to see content produced in the global TV and streaming industries during 2020 largely had to do with creative reflex: Homes became studios, talent transitioned to remote participants, and virtualization became more familiar.

Without a doubt, at some point when we return to the studio, someone will remember the capabilities that were unlocked by this shift. A hybrid production will be created—studio formats will return, but guests may still call in from their home office or garden space.

And that right there is the key enabler that will change the way we work. The internet connected us all via video. That will not go away.

By necessity, this will redefine the way we think of fault tolerance. Suddenly our workflows won’t be confined to a traditional studio space. Instead, we will see makeshift spaces quickly and effectively spun up to work as production locations. Our living rooms, back patios, garages, and home workspaces will forever be the backup we trust when it comes to experiencing a fault. This will, of course, be a hybrid model at times -- but now we will be undoubtedly ready to make the shift.

What Does this Shift Require?

COVID-19 has demolished the old way of thinking about fault tolerance, beyond a doubt. But what must we embrace to ensure we can quickly adapt again?

For one, the increasing growth of software-based storytelling.

Dedicated hardware can no longer save us, no matter how many backup units we have. The reality of installing a full, hardware-based production system into a home at short notice is simply unfeasible. Hardware failed us.

But with software-based solutions, we can move production into the cloud. Thus, we make access to it in the home far more swift and affordable. Production systems that can run over ubiquitous network infrastructure and on standardized computing hardware allow for easier, quicker, cheaper, and more effective production.

The movability and flexibility offered by software-backed solutions is simply too powerful to ignore—and it is a capability the streaming media space has long understood.

The Story Comes First

What we saw in the pandemic was how the smaller and more nimble content creators thrived. Houses of worship, schools, concerts, and creative individuals with stories to tell were each able to utilize their flexible, software-backed systems to keep the message moving out to the world.

The key connective fabric in this creativity was the ability to utilize software to do it remotely. With that in mind, it becomes clear that it was never important how you make the story but rather, that the story is made. We love to discuss SDI vs. IP and the merits of this or that connectivity in our industry, but at the end of the day, the focus remains on ensuring you can produce and deliver your work. And, when disaster struck, we saw that software was built to weather the challenge.

Bottom line: What technology you use doesn’t matter. What does matter is using technology that empowers you—the storyteller—no matter what happens. Software and IP networks have proven their mettle, and now we must find ways to improve, expand, and more creatively use these technologies to ensure they have lasting places in our new workflows.

If we do that, then we will be prepared to handle the next fault that comes our way.

[This is a contributed article from Vizrt. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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