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Keeping the Sesame Street Audience Engaged Through Quarantine

September, 20 2020

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The beloved children’s program didn’t miss a beat when transitioning to remote workflows; how Sesame Street prepared for something they didn’t know was coming.

Last week we were joined by Shadrach Kisten, CTO for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, as part of our customer success webinar series: “Creating Video Remotely in Lockdown”. Our conversation focused on achieving  business continuity and success during an unprecedented shift to remote working and collaboration, and the unique pressures of keeping a beloved and storied brand on the air amidst technical and creative challenges. 

We invite you to watch the full session here and check out some key insights from Shadrach below.

What have you learned so far as we work through this unprecedented time?

Shadrach: I think for us, curation is an important piece. Technology is an enabler, and when shifting from on-prem to remote, we have to be mindful that at any given moment there may be something that requires us to shift our priorities. This forces us to build systems that give us the ability to pivot quickly and easily. 

Regardless of where we are, and regardless of this situation, we should always be able to access our content assets. Whether it's proxy, whether it's hi-res, whether it's HLS format for digital distribution, if you can’t get to it, it’s not valuable to you. With that in mind, it's important that you choose the right system, not just for on-prem, but one that gives you the ability to use it when you are remote or when you're on the go; and even provides access from any platform.

What sort of technical challenges have you faced?

Shadrach: Traditionally in the IT space, we think about bandwidth. You look at your database system, your email system, your file services, even print services; these typically don't require a lot of bandwidth. When it comes to video, even if it's a proxy file, it requires a lot of bandwidth, and the data type is different, the structure is different, the sequencing of read and write is different, and so it all comes down to the availability of the bandwidth. You have to consider how all these systems interact with each other and alongside each other and how much collective bandwidth is being used. 

So when you work remotely, for example, our post-production team, when they do editing, we have to ask: can they edit off the proxy and can they do a conform locally, or can they do the conform connecting back to AWS at Sesame? And so the challenge we have now is the availability of bandwidth at home, we call this the quandary of the last mile.

That said, we had a very well thought-out process in our long-term roadmap. We were able to create a virtualized environment that allows us to incorporate UDP technology (User Datagram Protocol: an alternative to TCP/IP that can be faster when moving media) with IPV, and then incorporate virtualization. Our IPV infrastructure is 100% virtualized, and so we were able to overcome those bandwidth challenges.

Since we didn’t have our usual gamut of in-studio  resources,  some of the production quality was not there. That said, we were able to produce some wonderful specials that gave us a lot of impact in terms of reach and engagement. Fortunately we’ve been in the mindset of preparing for events like this,  for example what we call the pandemic. It’s our mission to produce great content that positively affects parents and kids on an international scale and we’re happy that we were able to deliver.

Any unexpected successes?

Shadrach: The Elmo Playdate was a great success for us. We had a lot of success in producing a full-length show remotely and without being on-prem, without being in a physical studio.  That was a huge success for us.

I think the unexpected surprise was learning how to get our talent to produce content at home; particularly the physical elements of producing a show based on puppeteering. Some of our team lives in confined spaces which made it challenging to pull off.  When you consider the nature of our show and the physical space required for puppeteering, not to mention managing camera focus, lighting, etc., you begin to understand the scope of challenges we faced without a producer, without a director, without a production assistant there with the talent. Basically they have to self-manage.

To help with this, we were able to put together a home production kit that we sent to the talent. It started with just a simple iPhone with some lightning cables and iPads. We were able to produce content with multiple phases of experimental trial and error.

The ability to create this show within a confined space, to be able to distribute it, to be able to do post-production, edit it, curate it and distribute it in a short period of time was pretty amazing.

What does all this mean for the future of the industry?

Shadrach: From my own personal experience and from what I’ve heard from peers in the industry, I think the way we produce content will change.  Historically, whether it's reproduced content, whether it's short form, whether it's long form, whether it's news, episodic, etc., it's always confined to physical space, and by physical space I mean on-prem with studios and with technology that's very much reliant on being used in person.

I do know from my experiences using technology like Zoom, iPhone and iPad, that you can have virtual sets. I do think the industry will produce more virtual sets and companies will use them more. Aside from the big productions, I think that the industry should think about not just physical locations, but multiple locations, both on-prem and remote.  

For example,  we now have to ask ourselves: can we move a set, whether it's a virtual set or technology that's consumer-based? Can we create a studio-like environment in different physical locations? Can we move production from North America to South America, even to a different continent? This is a moment where we have to rethink how and where we produce, so that's number one.

Number two, this industry needs to think about Cloud services. Cloud services is not a fad. It's a fact. And so you have three companies that have been driving this for the past decade: Amazon, Google and Azure. With DevOps leading a lot of these things in terms of automation, we ask how can we move virtual environments from AWS to Azure to Google Cloud?

So between physical locations and Cloud services, you now also have to think about cybersecurity.  You have to think about how to do this in a hybrid fashion so if you don't have access to a facility, there is a transition that's very seamless from physical to Cloud.

Questions? Let’s chat!

We want to get to know you and your business needs. Book time directly with Gabrielle below to see how Curator can help you take control of your video assets and produce quality video content faster than ever! 👇👇👇

 

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