Connecting the Dots with Final Cut Server

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As an Enterprise Consultant at Control Group, I help lead our Broadcast, Media, and Entertainment technology consulting group. While CG employs experts in a wide variety of technologies, my area of experience and expertise is focused around Apple solutions for professional video and design. A few months ago, I wrote an article for O’Reilly on Final Cut Server that was targeted at consumers and covered the basics for professionals in the production industry. I wanted to expand on that article and share some thoughts on Final Cut Server as part of an integrated media workflow.

Final Cut Server client

Final Cut Server client

Apple markets Final Cut Server as a tool primarily for Final Cut Pro users. Apple’s focus is on enabling users to manage their FCP projects and related files, providing them with automations to save time, and giving production teams a centralized system for collaboration. Beyond Apple’s sales pitch, we think Final Cut Server has real potential to play a central role in a production and distribution platform made up of a framework of connected systems.

Here’s an example of a typical broadcast infrastructure:

  • Storage area network (SAN) for storage
  • Media asset management system (MAM) for organizing and versioning
  • Editor/artist workstations
  • Producer workstations
  • A transcode system for delivery

Now here’s an example of how those pieces might fit together in a broadcast workflow:

  1. Content from tape or tapeless media is ingested through the MAM. Metadata is added at ingest – both technical metadata (shot, tape, take, etc) and possibly contextual metadata (actor, object brands, locations).
  2. Data is saved to the SAN, where it is cut and crafted by editors and artists. As the content comes together, project files and new assets are saved to the SAN by editors and artists, and reviewed by producers.
  3. As content is completed, it is transcoded for delivery to television, tape, and the web. Web distribution might include delivery in a custom player, and/or Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo.
  4. Once content is in the wild, content owners need analytics tools to understand who is watching what and where.

Beyond its out-of-the box capabilities, Final Cut Server can be customized to play a key role in workflows like these. While it doesn’t include an API, developers can leverage custom responses in Final Cut Server to read and write XML and run external scripts. On its developer website, Apple provides an example of Final Cut Server integration with an external Rails application that enables the viewing and commenting of movie clips in a web browser. An example like this serves as a useful starting place when exploring building the middleware to connect Final Cut Server to other applications or platforms in a workflow.

Episode Engine Admin

Episode Engine Admin

For example, Final Cut Server leverages Compressor for all of its out-of-the-box transcoding. However many existing infrastructures exist using established transcoding systems, such as Telestream’s Episode Engine. By combining metadata subscriptions and watch folders in Final Cut Server with custom responses that leverage external scripts, Episode can easily be integrated as the transcode delivery component for a Final Cut Server workflow. Similarly, the ability to read and write XML to assets in Final Cut Server makes possible the development of web applications that interact with assets, and can even store information in their own disparate databases, populating Final Cut Server when appropriate.

What excites us about this are the many Final Cut Server integration possibilities that are not currently being talked about. And since Control Group marries Apple video integration expertise with a team of developers under the same roof, we’re excited to continue to innovate in this area. Give us a shout if you’d like to open up a dialog on how Final Cut Server might fit into your broadcast or production workflow.