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What Every Media Server Operator Should Know

media server operator
By News & Views by Dataton
John Mims III

As a media server operator and content manager, John Mims, J3Consulting.org, is the go-to guy for leading producers and brands in the US. In this blog, he looks at the role of the operator, and offers practical advice to ensure your next show runs even more smoothly.

There are paradigm shifts in the live events industry when it comes to media servers, with many makes and models on the market. I will not be discussing the pros and cons of them, although, full disclosure, I own and operate Dataton WATCHOUT, and believe that Dataton is far superior. That’s my choice and each and every producer, and/or end client, will have their preferences. As will the actual operators. Operators are the focus of this blog, because at the end of the day, regardless of who’s at “fault,” the media server operator will bear the responsibility of any issues with media. Whether directly, or indirectly.

Actually, what can happen, and WILL happen, are miscommunications about the proper video codecs for use with the chosen media server. At times, a tech white paper is handy. But on many projects, there can be three or four producers handling various events, at a single venue, and, they’re ALL handing out rendering specs to multiple ad agencies which ultimately produce your content.

Will you, as a Media Server Op, get the right assets? Sometimes, but not always. Will they blame the Op when assets don’t play correctly? They do, and absolutely WILL blame the operator. But what an “operator” can do, is be prepared. You have to politely force your way into the conversations about ANYTHING that pertains to media flowing through ‘your’ media server. It is imperative for the success of the show, and to also cover yourself for the issues that may come your way, when an asset plays poorly on screen.

Why I developed the content creation tool kit


A few years back, I began to see an opportunity to help producers on the front end of the project. Rather than react to things in ‘real time’ on show site, I thought, why not build a “Content Creation Tool Kit”? This “tool kit” goes beyond writing a simple white paper stating what works best for your media server. My “tool kit” is anything but simple. It now includes a master After Effects template built to the exact scope of the LED wall(s). A content creator can look at the template, and see LED grid AORs (Area of Responsibility), and add media according to the grid AOR. You can add “safe title” areas, masking areas where screens are covered by hard set pieces, etc… plenty of helpful options.

Why stop there? What I then do is decide how many video files I want rendered to map out a wide LED. For example, a 9000 pixel wide x 1600 pixel tall LED canvas would be split into three 3000 x 1600 HAPQ, and/or ProRes HQ movies for WATCHOUT playback. The best way to set this up for anyone looking at your template, is to pre-configure your render modules. By doing so, the client can add media to your workspace, and hit the render button, and quite literally bake out everything you need, exactly perfect for WATCHOUT playback stability. In the exact format you requested. There is no guess work, there are no miscommunications.

Why you should be proactive


Make no mistake, there will be editors that by proxy, will, deviate from your template, and just render out MP4, H.264, or other types of highly compressed media… but at least you made it clear from the start, and can fall back on your original template to ensure the show looks terrific. Which is our love and passion as media server professionals.

The key message here is that an operator MUST, politely, elbow his or her way into the conversation to make this happen. You cannot wait until someone ‘gets around to asking you’. You need to jump into the email string, find out who the players are, ask the right questions about the LED screen(s) make and model, and/or projector make and model. Then, jump at the chance to assist your clients, by proactively building your “tool kit”. Don’t ask permission, just build it, put it on your FTP and/or Drop Box account. Send the link to as many people involved as possible. Never be afraid to press this upon people… in my eyes, as long as you have the best interest of the show in mind, then you’re adding value. Every great producer will appreciate your efforts.

media server operator

At the end of this blog, there’s a link to my personal DropBox account… the link will direct you to an actual tool kit for a show I worked on recently, the tool kit includes a “best practices” white paper, an After Effects master, with the pre-configured render modules. It also includes test movies.

The results


When I started building and linking to a “Content Creation Tool Kit”, producers began contacting me directly for pre-production, and onsite Dataton WATCHOUT support, and operation. They saw the value that this type of communication offers. There is nothing negative anybody can say about you, when you’re doing the ‘right’ thing, and being proactive.

As I said before, it’s the show and your reputation that are on the line – you cannot stand by and wait to be told what type of media you’re getting. You need to impress that upon everyone involved. In the most egregious case, a producer is sensitive, and gets offended by you trying to help. But like I said before, most producers will be very appreciative that you took every step necessary to ensure they look good, and that you always have their best interests in mind. At this time, I work with the best producers in the industry and they’re always open to ideas and assistance.

I’m sure that some of you who read this blog will have opinions on the technical aspects of my white paper, but this is what works for me. And you all, must do what works best for you. My goal is to share my practices with the community, and that maybe you should be doing this for your clients as well, if you aren’t already. Build your specs, to your preference. Just do it!

Here is a link free to download and sample one of my Content Creation Tool Kits, J3Consulting

You are welcome to check out my website to find out more about how I work, view my references and show gallery, or contact me by email.

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