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PFT is best to help M&E companies embrace cloud technology: CEO Ramki Sankaranarayanan

Prime Focus Technologies founder and CEO spoke about the company’s plans and growth strategy.


Mumbai: As media and entertainment companies increasingly make the move towards digital this spells a big opportunity for players like Prime Focus Technologies (PFT). It is the creator of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, CLEAR, for the Media And Entertainment (M&E) industry. It offers streaming platforms, studios, and broadcasters transformational AI-led technology and media services powered by the Cloud that help them lower their Total Cost of Operations (TCOP) by automating their content supply chain.

PFT works with major M&E companies like Walt Disney-owned Star TV, Hearst Television, Channel 4, Sinclair Broadcast Group, A&E Networks, Warner Media, PBS, CBS Television Studios, 20th Century Fox Television Studios, Lionsgate, Showtime, HBO, NBCU, TERN International, Disney+ Hotstar, Cricket Australia, BCCI, Indian Premier League and more. PFT is the technology subsidiary of Prime Focus, which offers M&E industry services.

IndianTelevision.com caught up with Prime Focus Technologies founder and CEO Ramki Sankaranarayanan to find out more about the company’s plans and growth strategy.

What are Prime Focus' focus areas for 2022?

Driven by the need for velocity in a changing landscape of ever-increasing volume and variability, we feel that our customers are incredibly busy meeting their supply chain demands. One of the toughest challenges facing them is the coordination amongst vendors globally to meet the launch windows and yet be in control.

With leading brands going global with their streaming platforms, there is a massive demand for content, not just for bringing back catalogue but also for commissioning originals worldwide. And we play a role in both. We endeavor to help our clients manage their supply chain on the Cloud.

We enable bringing catalogue back to streaming platforms faster with AI (Artificial Intelligence) by discovering content segments, preparing cut downs, compilations and marketing clips, conform and create new versions, and re-time subs/dubs. We want to automatically generate, transcribe, and trans-create subtitles for our customers to expedite the entire process. In addition, with modern MAM, onboarding vendors, tracking consumption, reviewing vendor-specific dashboards, and more, we believe bottlenecks can be avoided, and our customers can take control of the supply chain.

With originals, through Vision Cloud, we are looking at AI Everywhere across the content supply chain — Segmentation, Content Discovery, Conform, Content Localisation, Subtitle Retiming, Compliance and more.

Our concentration is also on providing support for a complete spectrum of mastering, compliance, localisation, and versioning services specialised in managing projects to deliver the highest quality while adhering to tight turnaround times. We are hyper-focused on helping customers meet all these challenges, focusing on content supply chain automation in 2022.

As we mark 100K hours of AI processing this year, what is worth mentioning is that our 'Making AI work for you' proposition has been hugely successful as our AI data and action tool kits have become one of the best in the entire industry.

What is the strategy to grow the business?

PFT believes in continuing to invest in innovations required for automation so that we can reimagine the supply chain with the application of AI in business processes wherever applicable. In addition, we focus on making AI work for our customers to ensure dramatic cycle time reduction and drastic reductions in reducing the TCOP further and let them take complete control.

Further work order automation will undoubtedly expand our purview to manage tasks, internal resources, assets, and workflow orchestration across the multi-vendor supply chain for content versioning, localisation, QC, mastering, and delivery.

PFT has been working closely with media and entertainment (M&E) companies to evangelise the benefits of moving to the Cloud and address dilemmas related to that important decision. With over 13 years of highly successful global hybrid cloud deployment experience, PFT is the best place to help M&E companies embrace cloud technology to drive business outcomes like greater efficiencies, lower cost of operations, and net new revenues. In addition, PFT shares its wealth of knowledge and best practices with customers wanting to make that 'Journey to the Cloud' but may not know when and how.

What trends are we seeing in technologies used by the media and entertainment industry this year to improve their P&L?

The M&E industry has been harnessing AI and extensive data processes for quite some time now. The industry had its initial issues of business returns not being significant compared to the AI/ML (Machine Learning) introduction costs. However, the missing point was that any M&E enterprise's business problems in their totality could not be solved accurately by any one or more off-the-shelf AI solution in the market.

The experiments with limited resources, budgets and the choice of available AI offerings hit a wall with the search for a complete solution that has adequate accuracy to make AI work for the business use cases.

We are witnessing an acute interest in AI now, more than ever, and people are cautiously exploring the Cloud and how Cloud can impact costs and thereby influence P&L.

With native media recognition, Vision Cloud makes AI work for our customers by solving real-world business problems through its perfect blend of consulting and technology, providing accurate and actionable data. It fuses the expertise of home-grown models along with world-class AI engines like AWS, Google and Microsoft, all wrapped in our secret sauce, 'Machine Wisdom' to make AI data more accurate and actionable.                    

There is greater use of asset management in remote post-production areas (to continue to enable remote work in the post-pandemic era). Post-production and workflow have drastically changed. The need to 'go remote' has accelerated the need to embrace Remote Postproduction. In addition, the pandemic has made the industry successfully embrace virtualised edit workstations.

• Footage required for a project has grown, and the I/O departments have expanded in size. Round-the-clock interventions have become more demanding for storage management, ingesting and restoring content for postproduction. There is an acute need to run postproduction workflows on the Cloud — create work orders, tasks within the postproduction process, etc. Collaboration is vital— share media and metadata, seek review and approval even from the remotest locations.

CLEAR offers remote postproduction Adobe workflows with automatic, single-click backups from home to the Cloud and restoration to "my workspace" with different iterations every day.

How has Covid-19 impacted the increased use of technology and workflows?

Covid has impacted virtualisation at large in such a positive way. With new tools and techniques in production and postproduction, we have ensured non-stop workflows. In addition, cloud technology has made remote postproduction so easy and manageable.

Using online tools for collaboration helped deal with the inabilities of being face to face during the pandemic, with reviews/ approvals of dailies/cuts managed effortlessly. Editors can collaborate on projects, share media and metadata, seek review and approval regardless of where they are, use visual mark-ups and free-hand annotation, and chat and share notes.

In our case, over 600 editorial staff and thousands of artists continued working from home, generating Academy-winning work, all during the Covid times, thanks to technology and workflows. In addition, Prime Focus’ DNEG (VFX), animation, and stereo conversion arm, won its sixth Academy award in the last few years, substantiating that increased use of technology and workflows have been so much for the better.

How important is Cloud technology, and how long did it take for you to develop CLEAR?

Cloud adoption is already mainstream; if you are not on Cloud even now, you are already behind your competition. In 2022, more than $1.3 trillion in enterprise IT spending is at stake from the shift to cloud, growing to almost $1.8 trillion in 2025, according to Gartner.

Cloud has explored and enabled new possibilities, making AI possible. With agility, it has helped to centralise business processes in the supply chain while adhering to utmost security standards. It provides flexibility and scalability, and those who were already on Cloud before the pandemic could adapt to remote working more easily than the others. It drives collaboration efficiency, and it offers better insights from big data.

We are in the third generation of CLEAR. We started in 2008; CLEAR was born in the Cloud solving for 4Vs (variety, variability, visibility, and velocity) in the content supply chain. The 4 Vs are imperative for us in producing content as each holds its own forte’ Variety for PFT ranges from the genre, location, and talent to consumer preferences. Through velocity, we refer to our solving complex problems in lesser times in the digital age in tandem with consumer choices. Of course, we also believe in creating everything new; our variability is in new challenges, choices, suppliers, or content. Lastly, we believe visibility is essential to ensure transparency of all processes across the production supply chain.

Deployed globally, CLEAR is now a leading choice for content enterprises to deliver compelling results and offers never-before-seen advantages to media and entertainment businesses in managing their content.

Today, digital has made everybody a content creator. What is Prime Focus Technology's strategy to enable companies to manage digital assets easier?

Thanks to Cloud, best-of-breed tools are available today to the content creators worldwide – they can store, edit, manage, and distribute content. Cloud has made it viable for any creator to pick the world's best application for every need, every user, and business case. Moreover, some of the best tools are now in the power of a browser with commercially easier and pay-per-use models.

PFT believes in leveraging the power of AI to manage digital assets. Our CLEAR Vision Cloud, a Media Recognition AI platform, is a fusion of home-grown AI engines (over 35 & counting) and best-of-breed AI models enveloped by PFT's unique Machine Wisdom layer. Some use cases deployed for our customers include

· Conformance: Automatically conform regional edits, subtitles and dub tracks on global masters in a multiple frame rate baseline.

· Segmentation: Eliminate play-out errors drastically and increase monetisation by auto-generating frame-accurate segmentation metadata.

· Localisation: Automatically generate, transcribe, and trans-create subtitles in over 60 languages.

· Marketing: Locate the right clips needed to build a variety of cross-platform promo material with the high-quality discovery of data automatically.

· Content QC: Automatically quality-control the bag and tag versions of several promos daily to deliver 100% quality and prevent leakage in your advertising revenue.

We make AI work for the customers by providing suitable learning to the AI models for specific content and business needs, altering the models to adjust for the specific nuances.

What’s the importance of metadata in content discovery?

Metadata is the key to transforming any audio-visual content into a dynamic asset. Tags have changed decision-making from days, weeks, and often months into seconds. Metadata aims to facilitate quick searches for specific content, making the quality of the tags used extremely important. The value of metadata in our current time is even further enhanced because the quantity of content that already exists and what is now being created are so extensive.

If AI techniques can help human evaluators review new or existing content and create valuable metadata, it can help organizations unlock additional value in these assets.

Using AI to improve metadata processes can help an organisational business case. Making the most of digital content often requires M&E enterprises to move beyond basic asset management and embrace new-age, Cloud-based MAM solutions. With extensive data models and built-in tools for cataloging and metadata tagging, such solutions help organise content in useful ways, make it easily accessible, and open new avenues to monetize assets. Ultimately, they streamline and improve the overall efficiency of digital content creation, boost monetisation, and drive creative enablement.

Finally, how important are events like NAB and IBC?

NAB and IBC are always great meeting places. It's excellent having face-to-face interactions with people, learn about their challenges, and get to know what's new in the arena. There was a much-relaxed atmosphere; unlike the previous NABs, it was well organised, complete with safety measures and protocols.

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