Wednesday, October 2, 2013

M2 Digital Post Inc: A Clearly Cloudy Future

By Toms Inglesby

Michael Towe, president of M2 Digital Post.
At NAB this year, a section of the exhibition space was designated as the Cloud Pavilion.  About 20 companies exhibited – to the extent that anything called a “cloud” can be exhibited – and discussed applications for this digital environment. A cynic might revert to one of the early clich├ęs of computing and refer to some of it as vaporware; a nice pun, that.

But there are some practitioners who have had their heads in the cloud for a while and they seem to think it actually has value. Not only value, but value balanced with growing pains. Markee had a digital discussion with Michael Towe, president of M2 Digital Post Inc. ( in San Diego on his experiences with clouds.

“Let’s start with strengths,” Towe began. “The production industry is changing and has been for a few years now. The era of large production houses is gone. … The trend is for smaller, more distributed production resources. The editor that used to drive into the large post house to work now has his own system and is working out of his house. But working out of the house has drawbacks. It makes the act of collaborating more difficult, as well as the task of client review and approval. This is where the cloud comes into play.”

Speaking of the client approvals process, Towe recalls: “In the past, I had office space that was nice and big and comfy and expensive. “Now I work out of a 400-square-foot patio [at home]. I made the move in a large part because the cloud enabled me to do so. I send clients a video via a cloud review and approval service, they look at the video and send me changes. I came to the realization that I was spending about $3,000 per month to have a big office I didn’t need. So in early 2008, I dumped the office space. I now do 99 percent of my review and approval via the cloud.”

So what about collaboration? A big part of this industry is sharing ideas, brainstorming with others. Towe has that covered. “The cloud has helped here, too. The review and approval process I just explained can be used with others. I use it quite often for motion graphics work and especially for voice work. Now I can use online services to post my job. Within a couple hours, I have auditions to put in front of a client; they pick the one they like, and we’re off to the races. Granted, there are still times where getting everyone to a recording studio is the better choice, but those jobs are few and far between.”

Brainstorming isn’t all like it used to be. Face time is valuable when you consider the travel time and coordination necessary. According to Towe, “I find myself sharing ideas and impromptu brainstorming with so many through social networks. Things like Twitter and Facebook become a valuable resource to bounce ideas off of friends. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo have given me hours of inspiration from simply looking at others’ work. And when it comes to getting people together in a virtual room to discuss things, I have used sites like GoToMeeting and Skype.”

So what about weaknesses? What’s the downside? “There is one big downside,” Towe admits, “and that’s spontaneity. That water cooler moment with a coworker that sparks a great idea really is gone. To be honest, I don’t know how you get that back. Social networks come close, but it’s still not the same. Speed is another drawback. We’re still at relatively slow Internet speeds for the size of files we need to push around in the video world. I still find myself having to ship a drive from time to time because the files are just too big. Another downside is it does make client management a bit more difficult. You need to develop a different set of skills to manage those clients when dealing with them through emails.”

So Towe is working in what might be called a hybrid cloud environment, combining real world (FedEx, hard drives) with cloud activity. “My quick conclusion is the cloud is here to stay,” he confesses. “The video profession has changed drastically in the past 10 years. The cost of entry has come way down so competition has gone way up. This in turn has driven profits through the floor. What I can charge today for a five-minute, corporate trade show video is a fraction of what I could charge for it in 2004. That means I have to find ways to cut back my costs to remain competitive. The cloud has enabled me to do this by making office space a thing of the past. I have lowered my overhead by thousands of dollars a month because of it.”

Last thoughts? “Darwin taught us that you need to adapt or die. The most recent adaptation in the video production species is a connection to the cloud. Those that don’t make that connection will go the way of the Dodo.”