Tyrell implements EditShare storage for National Theatre
The Royal National Theatre – more usually referred to as the National Theatre, the National or just the NT – is one of the UK’s best known theatre venues. Founded in 1963, the reach and influence of the National has extended over the last 15 years beyond its concrete building on London’s South Bank. This is in part due to NT Live, the cinema programme of multi-camera captures of productions, distributed by satellite or DCP, to over 700 UK sites and more globally. Making the arts more accessible to a wider audience.
During the covid pandemic the National Theatre’s live performances were suspended but they adapted by creating the NT at Home streaming service. Initially it started as a program of free streams on YouTube with the full NT at Home SVOD service launching in December 2020. During this time the National Theatre discovered inefficiencies in the infrastructure when faced with a large increase in captured content, so they needed to look at the addition of post production storage. Central to this was the installation of an EditShare EFS 300 storage system, which was designed and implemented by Tyrell.
“When the pandemic hit, we were no longer able to capture new material and the cinemas were closed as well,” comments Jim Cross, Senior Post Production Manager, National Theatre. “But part of our Arts Council remit as a publicly funded organisation is to bring theatre to our audiences. Because of this we started putting out productions free on YouTube, which became the NT At Home platform. To support that we went from a team of 15 to now nearly 60 people, who now work on the dual delivery of NT Live for cinema and purpose capture for NT at Home.”
Cross explains that these services along with the requirement to promote shows in the theatre, as well as the rise in the volume of work for the internal learning department meant their workload increased significantly. As a result, both the production/post-production and archiving departments realised the three legacy servers that had been used since the mid-2010s were no longer suitable for the increased demands being put on them. “It was very hard drive-based, with IT ‘non-video’ servers that weren’t specifically for media,” he says. “And these days we do less live satellite, we do more full post-production workflows in house, including editing, mixing and grading, so we needed a more dynamic, powerful and robust solution.”
This has meant there is a lot more media moving around and being worked on by the edit team, which has doubled in size in the last three years. Cross explains that by the end of 2021 the increased workload meant the NT was beginning to run out of storage. “During the covid pandemic everyone was working from home and shuttling hard drives back and forth,” he says. “We knew we were going to come back into the building, but it became very obvious we needed near-line, hot storage. A NT Live show takes on average 4 terabytes of storage and it would take three, four or five hours to ingest that. Now with EditShare EFS we can do it in just 45 minutes.”
The NT’s digital content is archived using the Preservica cloud-based platform and although that is a self-contained operation, it needed to connect to any new near-line storage set-up in a more efficient way than previously. “Historically there wasn’t such a smooth workflow process around getting material from the digital media team into the archive involved a lot of local knowledge on the part of the editors, producers and me,” comments Post-Production Archive Manager Zoe Bowers, who describes herself as sitting between the digital media team and the archive. “The move towards the new EditShare system came in tandem with thinking we all needed to know where content is so we can find it, particularly as so much more is being created.” Tyrell’s sales and marketing director, Dan Muchmore adds, “it’s a common issue that every facility hits as they grow and it’s our speciality as a technical partner to help migrate workflows away from a single source or knowledge to a way of working that benefits the business, regardless of team size and structure”.
The NT previously did not have a digital asset management system but worked on a SMB file share arrangement, with folders for short-term and long-term storage. With both Tier 1 and Tier 2 server systems nearing the end of their operational lives, Jim Cross and Zoe Bowers instigated a request for proposal (RFP) process, with EditShare being their primary choice for a new system.
“I worked with Tyrell on the installation of the system into our server room, which involved the networking and commissioning of the 256TB EditShare hardware,” Tom Rhodes, Head of IT Infrastructure explains. “But really it was all quite self-contained within the EditShare technology. It’s now utilised on our 10Gb infrastructure, which allows us to ingest material a lot quicker than before. EditShare also has its FLOW media asset management software and although we haven’t fully implemented this yet, it is something we looked at when selecting the system.”
The National Theatre has been using EditShare for 18 months and in that time, Jim Cross concludes, the new storage installation has changed the way the post-production process for the NT. “Previously the team would take material from the SANs and save content locally and on drives,” he says. “Now, the machines themselves are clear of data and we don’t use hard drives in that way anymore because of how fast it is. This means anyone can pick up a project at any point because everything is in EditShare. It has revolutionised the way we work.”
The NT has always led the way in representing the arts in the UK. Constantly evolving to find ways to make productions more accessible to wider audiences, both geographically and financially. NT Live began as a fantastic initiative and become a leader in the event cinema industry. What we love most about their hunger to evolve is that the NT team worked hard to not only maintain the value of the arts to its patrons but also the actors and production teams, who would have been impacted by the loss of work.
This evolution continues to this day, with Jim, Zoe and Tom not only identifying their post production inefficiency but also the importance of their roles as stewards of the NT archive. Inefficiencies often result in additional expenditure, which could instead be used by the arts and as we know the NT archive is important for future generations. EditShare solves both these problems whilst giving the team another opportunity to evolve again.