Prominent media technologists discussed how the pandemic has altered their content flow as distribution platforms for digital entertainment see increased viewership.

Presented by Western Digital, Variety hosted the Innovators in Media Technology Management, a panel with leading executives as part of the Variety Streaming Room series. The conversation, moderated by Variety’s New York digital editor Todd Spangler, featured panelists Bill Baggelaar, executive vice president and chief technology officer of tech development at Sony Pictures Entertainment and executive vice president and general manager at Sony Innovation Studios; Annie Chang, vice president of creative technologies at Universal Pictures; Rathi Murthy, chief technology officer at Verizon Media; and Matthew Klapman, senior director of professional products and product security at Western Digital.

The conversation also explored solutions for content management across platforms when conducting remote production. While navigating certain capabilities, such as HDR and 4K, is difficult due to expensive equipment, the panelists were hopeful of adapting to the industry’s trends.

“I think the great thing is we’ve found that our workforce is more resilient than I think anybody really thought they were,” Baggelaar said. “I know that we can solve many of the challenges that are facing the industry, but I think the workforce and their ability to pivot and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to work together to solve these problems’ has been really gratifying to see.”

With the explosion of streaming content as global consumers stay at home, the panelists discussed the innovations occurring within the technological sphere to meet skyrocketing demand.

“I think technology has been the hero during this pandemic and the pandemic has accelerated many trends for us,” Murthy said. “For one, we’re seeing creating new immersive consumer experiences with AR, VR, really producing new dynamic, real-time interactive content, where you can bring these consumer experiences. … And the ability to provide that immersive experience with your friends together has really been rewarding in this time.”

To be able to meet the challenges presented by remote production, the panelists have rethought storage space and security, broadband connectivity and production visualization.

“The workflow at work is one thing, now you’re at home, and you have to figure out how to get the files from the cloud, or have someone ship something to you, edit it, store it, get it back,” Klapman said. “We see people backing up stuff, because they’re trying to make sure that things don’t break. So, for us, we’re seeing a wonderful uptick in the amount of tools and local storage we provide through our SanDisk, G-Technology and WD brands.”

As technological innovation remains paramount amid the pandemic, Chang described changing philosophies to “fixing in pre” rather than “fixing in post,” as productions traditionally would. In order to visualize sets and plan shoots ahead of time, studios have relied on game engine technology, used for video games, for the pre-visualization process.

“What’s really neat about this game engine technology is that it also allows for remote collaboration, which gee, look at that, it’s so helpful at this time period here where everyone’s working from home,” Chang said. “And if they can actually jump into a virtual world together, walk around, set some cameras up, take a look at like a few different shots and run some cars through, for example.”

According to Murthy, as 5G becomes more widespread, productions will be able to take advantage of the high latency and lack of delay the technology offers to improve their productivity.

“I think 5G is going to have a massive impact in general on media and entertainment,” she said. “And not just 5G alone in terms of bandwidth, but the power of combining 5G with technologies like AR, VR, I think will just revolutionize the way you think about live events or fan experience all together.”

The panelists also touched on hybridizing on-premise and cloud technology as a means of navigating broadband accessibility and connectivity issues that could arise from power outages or other problems.

“It all goes to that same philosophy I think we’re all talking about here is ‘How do you let the stories be told, in a way where people can express themselves and not be burdened by the complexities of technology that are behind the scenes?’” Klapman said.

As studios look to improve productivity and streamline workflow through technology, the panelists said security is another area of concern, as Verizon found that cyber-attacks increased by a third as a result of the pandemic.

“What we’ve all been doubling down upon is really increased training and awareness across the company, including phishing,” Murthy said. “So, we have been simulating a lot of those events in-house to reflect those challenges of working from home and the COVID, and using those results to bring up new simulations to deliver additional targeted training.”