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CNN's Ben Ratner Talks Cloud and REMI Production at Streaming Media East 2022

Streaming Media Contributing Editor Tim Siglin and CNN Operations Manager discuss the persisting benefits of cloud and hybrid production as practiced at CNN in this interview from Streaming Media East 2022.

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Sreaming Media East 2022 here in Boston at the lovely Westin Copley. Weather's much nicer or outside today than it was when I flew in on Sunday. Ben, you're based in New York. Is that right?

Ben Ratner: Right outta New York City.

Tim Siglin: Okay. And you're with CNN.

Ben Ratner: Yes.

Tim Siglin: And what is your focus there?

Ben Ratner: I'm a live operations manager, so I'm basically working on cloud live production for a lot of our digital shows.

Tim Siglin: Okay. And you were on a panel that we did a while back about hybrid workflows. Is hybrid still part of the mix of what you're doing?

Ben Ratner: On CNN Digital and the specific things I'm working on, we're 100% cloud now. We had a hurricane and a snowstorm that knocked out our on-prem computers at two people's houses. So we ultimately decided it's time to be 100% cloud. And we're using cloud not only because it's really useful for what we need to do and all the people working remotely, but because we couldn't necessarily get computers to replace those computers. And it's kind of helping us find are there other places in the organization where we might be able to use some of this technology.

Tim Siglin: So, REMI for the win, essentially, at this point.

Ben Ratner: We're still very much grounded in traditional on-prem tech, but there's a lot of benefits to REMI that I think we're gonna be able to take even more advantage of.

Tim Siglin: Okay. Very good. So what did you speak on here at the show?

Ben Ratner: Cloud production and hybrid production.

Tim Siglin: Very good. And how do you define hybrid?

Ben Ratner: A lot of the tools that we use in the cloud are software that you can use on-prem. We were using vMix on those on-prem hurricane disaster computers. And then we just moved it to the cloud. So I think it's the right tool for the right job. There are certainly things where it's easy to work in the cloud. Just this morning, for call contribution, we used WebRTC-based tools, but there are a lot of banks, government organizations and other high-security situations that just don't let you use WebRTC. So we were able to spin up just in two seconds or two minutes a computer that had WebEx running, and we were able to make that work and just had to switch out some NDI connections and call it a day. So that's something that we couldn't have done on-prem 'cause I would've had to find another computer, boot it up, download NDI tools, all that fun stuff.

Tim Siglin: I remember back when I was installing video conferencing systems for government organizations, initially the thought was just to talk amongst themselves. It turned out it was actually a really good contribution tool as well.

Ben Ratner: Sometimes you just can't beat Zoom or WebEx or some of these services in efficiency on their end. There's a lot of downsides to using them. A lot of quality issues. They've gotten very, very good, to be clear, and we would not be where we were broadcasting--especially during COVID--without them. But there are a lot of things where I would rather have control. There's software that gives me the ability to change their webcam, change their resolution, change their color balance, look at their actual data connection, all that stuff. So I would prefer better solutions, but ultimately we need to get the show on the air and the guest on the air. And if the guest needs us to do it this way, we can accommodate.

Tim Siglin: And I think to a certain extent the viewers have given us latitude over the last two and a half, three years. We understand that people may be coming us on a big show from their home. And so we sort of go, "Okay, that person's at home. If the connection's not so good or the quality's not so good, maybe that's okay." But as you say, ultimately, if we're gonna carry that forward with workflows post-pandemic, we need to keep the quality up to the broadcast level.

Ben Ratner: Honestly, I think that broadcast in general or audiences in general--let's not blame the broadcasters; let's blame the audiences--have tolerated it too much and don't care enough. I think they should have a higher expectation for very good audio quality, very good video quality, very good internet. So I'd like to see across the industry a bigger focus on that. Obviously, it depends on the kind of budget you have. But sometimes a cellphone is better than a laptop. With all due respect to my favorite kind of computer, Apple, they're not known for their webcams. . So the rear camera on your smartphone is gonna be better than the one on your MacBook a lot of the time.

Tim Siglin: To show people what he means. It's a tiny little camera right up here.

Ben Ratner: If you wanna look like you're broadcasting through a potato, use Apple.

Tim Siglin: Versus this.

Ben Ratner: It's just better. The old trope used to be, "Hey, you wanna be wired, you wanna be ethernet." I will very often now be happier with the cellphone signal. That's gonna be pretty good, if not great.

Tim Siglin: On 4g LTE or 5G.

Ben Ratner: Not on, like, 2G.

Tim Siglin: Exactly. Well, Ben, thank you very much for your time and always good to have you and we'll be right back with our next guest.

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