Jigsaw24 Media – Fringe benefits: post houses, soaring power fees and sustainability
How post houses can reduce the impact of energy hikes & improve environmental credentials without compromising creativity.
Judging by the number of trade publication articles and speaking sessions that focus on the topic, you’d think that the entire media and entertainment industry is focused on cutting carbon costs. But is that really the case? True, broadcasters have set ambitious targets to reach net zero, the streaming giants are following suit, and they’re putting pressure on production companies to reduce their environmental impact and include sustainability messaging in the content they produce. Carbon emissions have even become a critical consideration in planning new studio builds. But not every part of the production chain is putting the environment first.
To date, most of the industry’s sustainability efforts have focused on production, which makes sense because it’s the most carbon intensive stage of the content supply chain. Production companies are also direct suppliers to the broadcasters and streaming companies that must prove they’re making good on their carbon neutral pledges. But broadcasters often don’t deal directly with post-production facilities, and it looks like post processes are yet to undergo significant changes in the name of sustainability.
A question of priorities … and fringe benefits
To their credit, plenty of post facilities have adopted general corporate sustainability initiatives, like switching to green energy providers, recycling waste and introducing electric vehicle incentive schemes. But, when it comes to the actual processes of post-production – designing facilities, choosing technology and making workflow decisions – sustainability doesn’t seem to be a deciding factor for most facilities or production clients.
It’s an attitude reflected in the membership of organizations like Albert, the number of post houses that hold the DPP’s Committed to Sustainability mark, and in the less-than-enthusiastic responses to our LinkedIn poll asking post houses how important sustainability is in your organization. And we can understand why. Post-production is a high-performance environment and a high pressure one. Machines need to be ‘always on’ and ready to perform at maximum output – characteristics that are intrinsically at odds with most sustainability advice. As the DPP’s Committed to Sustainability Programme manager, Abdul Hakim points out, the industry’s attitude to sustainability has also changed over time; he says, “When we launched the programme in 2019 it was a first priority for many of our members and this was maintained during the pandemic when a lot of improvements were made. But sustainability just doesn’t have the limelight that it did before because we’re going through an economic crisis and the priority is now about being able to do more with less money.”
But increasing efficiency can have fringe sustainability benefits. Specifically, cutting down on power consumption to combat rising energy costs will automatically reduce your organization’s carbon emissions. So, the question becomes – how can post houses cut power costs without compromising on their creative output?
Cutting power costs in post
The biggest culprits in post house power consumption are undoubtedly the double act: storage and cooling. As Jigsaw 24 Media’s head of innovation, Chris Bailey wryly observes, “Media isn’t insignificant in terms of storage needs,” and hard drive arrays inherently use a lot of power because they’re always spinning. The higher the wattage of the power supply, the more heat is generated, and the more air conditioning is needed – which further increases the power supply requirements. Here are some ways that post houses can break this expensive cycle:
Replace aging infrastructure
While it may seem like sweating old hardware saves money, you could be spending more than you save on increased power costs for legacy technology. EIZO claims that switching to the EIZO FlexScan EV2795 can cut the energy costs of running a simple computer monitor from £150 to just £11 per year. As they say, every little helps and small efficiencies like this can quickly add up to significant power and carbon savings across your organization.
When it comes to specialist post hardware the focus seems to be on increasing performance over reducing energy costs, like the latest version of the HP Z8 that retains two processors but provides double the performance of its predecessor in the same box.
Optimize your machine room design
Most machine rooms in Soho (and in post houses across the UK) are in converted basements, repurposed storage areas, or whatever other space is available. Our facilities are often chosen based on form rather than function (we’ll pick a Victorian teahouse over a datacenter every time) and we pay the price in the inflated cooling costs of our inefficient machine rooms. Badly maintained and managed MCRs exacerbate this situation as dirty and dusty machines run hotter and take more power to cool.
Cut down on data
Digital workflows, reality formats and ever-increasing resolutions have combined to create a data explosion in media and entertainment. Facilities are expected to store all this data – and keep it readily available – throughout what can be lengthy post-production process, adding to the storage and cooling conundrum. Post houses that work with production teams to reduce the amount of footage coming into the facility – and carefully manage the archival and retrieval of high-resolution media – will also benefit from reduced power costs associated with lower storage requirements.
Reduce your reliance on on-prem hardware
There are some issues with the previous points. Obviously, you can’t replace hardware if you’re mid-term on a repayment plan and, even if you invest in the most efficient tools, with the speed of tech advancements there’s a good chance that any hardware you buy may become outdated before you’ve finished paying for it. Similarly, while new facilities can ensure that efficient machine rooms are factored into their plans, there’s a limit to how much established post facilities can do to improve existing MCRs, and post houses can’t always influence production workflows to reduce data storage and duplication.
Perhaps the best way for post houses to cut power costs without compromising on creativity is to simply reduce the amount of hardware in your facility. One of the ways to do this is by migrating to a hyperconverged infrastructure. Hyperconvergence provides enormous efficiencies in shared power supply and shared GPU – just three nodes with two power supplies can run a total of 15-20 computers or offline machines. And, because you cut down on the amount of hardware in your MCR, you save on both the power to run and cool those machines. Hyperconverged post facilities also need a smaller physical footprint because suites that were previously dedicated to one function now become multipurpose – and a smaller footprint normally means lower power costs for everything from lighting to heating. It’s the smart alternative to the public cloud for running lots of machines that aren’t too process intensive.
While migrating post to a hyperconverged infrastructure requires an initial investment, it pays off in the long term – both in saved power costs and improved sustainability credentials. But post houses can also reap the benefits of hyperconvergence on an ad-hoc basis through managed virtualized services including our Editorial as a Service solution.
Post houses may currently be flying under the sustainability radar, but attention will inevitably turn to this stage of the content supply chain. Savvy facility owners are already preparing for that eventuality and the first step is to measure and reduce your energy consumption. Whether your motivation for doing so is to improve your green credentials for the greater good or just to cut down on your overheads is your business.