AI in the Edit Bay: Inside VICE’s Incredible Automated Workflow
At Frame.io, we’re lucky to have some ultra-large-scale customers who challenge us to keep making our platform more flexible and more customizable. And what’s especially valuable is when some of our most powerful users partner with us to solve some of their biggest challenges.
One of those users is VICE Media. We can always count on them to come up with new ideas for how Frame.io can help them streamline their massive operation—and to give us (and our readers) a massively useful case study to boot.
Read on to learn about how they’ve automated their Standards and Practices (S&P) review process by using the Frame.io API with AI transcription tools—and how they’ve reaped a massive boost in productivity as a result.
VICE operates at scaaaaaaale
According to Dee Wassell, Director of Media Operations, VICE has 36 offices worldwide with 2,000 team members using Frame.io to manage 333,000 assets stored on 35TB in the cloud. Annually, they create over 200 hours of original programming and, as we noted in last summer’s article about their overall workflow, they calculate that by using Frame.io they save over 100 eight-hour business days each year.
For those of you unfamiliar with the types of content VICE produces, it’s a combination of boundary-bending programming, from seriously immersive journalism to seriously extreme skateboarding.
As Dee says, “We’re part of an organization that believes in pushing the world forward, both in terms of the stories we tell and how we use technology to tell them.”
And Dee would know. She’s been with VICE for seven years, during which she’s been instrumental in driving the organization’s growth into global post-production. Her primary focus is centered on implementing a blend of cutting-edge technologies, like AI and Frame.io, with VICE’s in-house media workflows.
The heavy lifting
For those of you who are familiar with VICE’s shows, you know that their programs can be expletive heavy, much of which has to be bleeped or muted to meet compliance lists for a variety of ratings across different mediums and air slots.
That’s where their S&P department comes in to do what was once some fairly heavy lifting—especially on shows with same-day air times. A lean team of two to three is charged with reviewing six to seven hours of video content each day. At most, they’ll have a two-day turnaround to review and finalize a show for broadcast.
Six or seven hours a day may not sound like a lot for a standard workday. But when you break down all the steps, you realize that when done manually, it actually took as much as three times the running time of the shows to complete the process.
- First, the show was uploaded to Frame.io and the link sent to S&P.
- S&P reviewed the show in real-time, while having to keep in mind the three different compliance levels (depending on where and when the show was being aired). S&P then added time-stamped notes to Frame.io directly (if the show had a same-day airing), or to a Google Sheet (if there was a lengthier turnaround).
- Notes were sent back to editorial to bleep or drop the prohibited language.
- The final versions were then sent back to S&P for final review.
But they’re already using Frame.io for this, you’re probably thinking. Isn’t that supposed to speed the process up?
Yes, they were uploading cuts to Frame.io and yes, they were leaving frame-accurate comments for the editor. Which is part of why they started using Frame.io in 2016 in the first place. But what worked for them three years ago wasn’t enough to keep them ahead of their growth and goals as industry leaders.
Get yourself a Ted
The benefit of working with an operation on the scale of VICE is that they’re always looking for ways to improve and automate their processes, and have the insight and people to support proper development. “The effort as it stood was a demanding in-brain workflow,” Dee says, “which made it vulnerable to breaking down in practice.”
For context, because the S&P team needed to reference multiple word lists according to the level of compliance, their quickest way to work through them was to have them committed to memory. “It’s a credit to the diligence of the S&P team that it didn’t,” she adds.
VICE is doing a lot of development using AI workflows. “It’s at a point where we can really leverage it,” Dee says. “I wanted to find a way to implement something now that could provide value and start spreading the message internally. We decided to approach the S&P team to see how we could help them in a tangible way that we could share with the rest of the organization.”
Ted Cost, VICE’s media systems developer, worked with Dee and with Max Baehr, our head of platform at Frame.io. Ted joined VICE in 2017 and has focused on “creating programmatic solutions for arduous workflows and bridging the gap between media systems by leveraging APIs and developing software to suit the company’s unique needs.”
While the tools are the foundation for innovation, “Media systems developers are key to driving the next generation of professional media workflows,” Max says. “Ted is important to the process. Everyone should get a Ted!”
Good tools + smart people = exponential savings
Each person played a vital role in moving the project forward. From VICE’s side, Ted worked tirelessly with four different APIs, while Dee was the project point. At Frame.io, Max worked with the backend and media services teams, and they collaborated in real-time using Slack.
“Since the run-up to NAB this past April when we launched the public API, we’ve published a developer platform and started over a dozen technical partnerships,” Max says. “One of my favorite aspects of this growth has been the chance to see our apps, integrations, and platform positively impact workflows that run at VICE’s scale.”
As Ted explains, “There are so many opportunities for automation in the media industry. Most tasks are legacy workflows from a time where systems like Frame.io either didn’t exist or there was no potential for integration. The Frame.io API allows someone with my skill set to manage and organize data in a way that removes human interaction, which minimizes the margin for mistakes and saves time.
With the introduction of an API, like Frame.io’s, the potential to save time and money increases exponentially. With their API and the tools available via Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure, I was able to turn a laborious task into a few clicks of a mouse.”
Using Amazon’s API Gateway as an endpoint, Ted created a custom menu action from the Frame.io adjustable UI to a program contained in AWS Lambda.
The data he needed to run the computation was included in the Custom Action, so as soon as it was ignited, it became a self-contained process that left little room for bugs or user error. “Once the process is done, it places valuable data into an easy-to-read spreadsheet that’s viewable by our team and the user who requested the information,” Ted says.
“Without Frame.io’s API this process would be far more laborious and not nearly as user-friendly. Once developed, it only takes a few minutes to instruct someone on how to use my tool.”
But there’s more to it than just saving time. “By pulling the most time-consuming parts of the work into the cloud, we’re able to do so much more than we did before,” Dee says. “We’ve made our S&P team more efficient by improving and standardizing the output of their work, which means that the S&P people can use their skills to go into finer details and do more creative thinking.”
One of Dee’s superpowers is quantifying results. Using the new, automated workflow, she calculates that the VICE S&P group improved their review process on a 22-minute show by an impressive 70%.
“What these numbers don’t capture,” Dee says, “is the business impact of the time we save and the positive effect on the editors, producers, assistant editors, and supervisors who use the platform every day.”
Every media ecosystem, workflow, team, and organization is different, but most use the same collection of a few dozen tools. The challenge is to continue to explore the nearly infinite different ways those tools can be combined to serve each ecosystem’s needs. And the center of the Frame.io platform strategy is to provide an easy-to-use toolkit and easy-to-follow documentation, along with dedicated project and technical support, that enables organizations to create next-gen workflows.
Clearly, VICE’s media tech organization is ahead of the curve in the market at large. But as AI-driven services become less expensive and more usable in real-world scenarios, “we expect to see the trend of automating processes continue in professional media workflows,” Max says. “Frame.io as a product organization builds a customer-centric suite of applications rooted in end-user success, and as a platform can show the same level of commitment to the success of a growing class of media systems developers.”
While we’re on the subject of developer relations…
While we have solid developer relationships with VICE and a number of other large-scale clients, we also want to hear from users of all sizes and sorts. As part of our developer relations program, we invite you to share the ways you use Frame.io and other tools to enable your process. Hit us up with tricks, tips, or puzzles—because you help us get better at helping you create the workflows of the future.