How Media.Monks avoided carbon emissions using AWS for remote production
This blog is authored by Lewis Smithingham, SVP of Innovation, Media.Monks and Wes Hovanec, Virtual Studios Lead, Media.Monks.
Sustainability featured more prominently than ever at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters Show. NAB has been described as “the world’s largest annual convention for broadcasters and the broader media, entertainment and technology industries”. Responding to growing industry interest in the topic, this centennial NAB conference programmed eight primary sessions with “sustainability” in the title, and many more sessions included sustainability as a sub-topic. NAB also hosted the first ever Excellence in Sustainability Awards, championing media industry engagement in sustainability by awarding prizes to media organizations for stellar work in sustainability. The awards program is supported by Amazon Web Services (AWS). Media.Monks, an AWS customer and AWS Partner Network (APN) partner, was among the recipients of the Sustainability in Leadership award for large organizations. This blog post details how Media.Monks built a remote production workflow on AWS that supports business agility, while avoiding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions commonly associated with live broadcast workflows.
Media.Monks is a digital advertising, marketing and technology services partner and digital-first operating brand of S4Capital PLC. Media.Monks employs 8,900 people working in 32 countries around the world producing websites, games, social media content, digital media content, digital advertising campaigns, data and measurement solutions, and more. Media.Monks has a long history of environmental commitments. It was the first digital advertising and marketing services partner to sign The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. In response to the World Economic Forum 2020 Davos Manifesto, Media.Monks Executive Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell announced the commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2024. Media.Monks achieved this goal three years early after planting the S4 Forest in 2021, launched in partnership with Tree-Nation, which helps companies facilitate tree planting around the world to offset carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Aligning high-level sustainability initiatives and day-to-day workflows
The pandemic created an urgent need to rearchitect a content production workflow that allowed for remote capabilities. Media.Monks needed to better reach digital-native consumers who spend almost half their waking time in front of screens, all while solving for the need to produce content remotely. In response, Media.Monks developed high-quality hybrid experiences that merge online and offline worlds together. To do this, it staffed an in-house broadcasting team by hiring media industry veterans and built new media production workflows on AWS. A cloud-hybrid workflow allowed the company to connect remote collaborators across distances, unlocking the power to produce and broadcast interactive digital experiences remotely.
Subsequently, Media.Monks has used this new hybrid construct to produce everything from virtual concert events featuring American rapper Post Malone, to live sports in fully immersive worlds, to corporate events and educational experiences powered by 5G, and full-body motion tracking that bring children’s favorite characters to life. The Media.Monks team broadcasts from different locations for every event, and nearly every project in the last year was delivered at a different resolution, frame rate, and aspect ratio. Media.Monks found its new AWS-based workflow not only addressed its business agility production needs, but also delivered significant benefits related to its carbon reduction goals.
Measuring sustainability in media workflows
As media companies look to reduce their carbon footprint, many choose to follow the GHG Protocol to classify their emissions into three scopes. The following definitions of the three scopes come from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse (GHG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization (e.g., emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles).
- Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling.
- Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly affects in its value chain. Scope 3 emissions include all sources not within an organization’s scope 1 and 2 boundary.
Media.Monks, like most media companies, is not highly industrial, resulting in Scope 3 emissions contributing the largest source of emissions in its carbon footprint. Further, Media.Monks business travel represented 20% of the company’s total Scope 3 corporate emissions in 2022. This is consistent with other businesses in the production space. Albert, an organization focused on sustainability in TV and film production specifically, reported that travel is one of the largest parts of any production’s carbon footprint. The BAFTA albert Annual Review of 2021 states that “reducing travel on a project or considering alternative travel options can have a huge, positive impact on a production’s carbon footprint.”
Media.Monks was able to avoid additional Scope 3 related to travel emissions by using AWS to remotely produce events in the cloud using broadcasting software running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances. Running workloads in the cloud can reduce the number of on-premises vehicles required, reduce the amount of on-site equipment transported by gasoline-powered vehicles, or reduce the need for diesel-burning generators. Remote broadcast production on AWS can also reduce the amount of air travel required for productions by allowing production staff to work remotely. And by running workloads in the cloud, customers reap the energy efficiency and renewable energy benefits offered by AWS.
Figure 1. LEFT: Shipping crates containing remote production transported to site. RIGHT: A photo of the shipped hardware resting beneath a traditional outside broadcast (OB) production truck for comparative size in equipment required to transport to the venue.
How remote, cloud-powered workflows can reduce the carbon footprint of a broadcast
The remote broadcast workflow running on AWS allowed Media.Monks to reduce its number of on-site employees by 75%, which resulted in avoided carbon emissions related to air and ground travel. The distributed workflow also means that directors, producers, video engineers, audio engineers, replay operators, graphics operators, video editors, and even the announcers are able to support the event remotely, often from the comfort of their homes. An unexpected benefit to Media.Monks was the ability to now hire based on talent rather than geography.
Figure 2. Comparison of Media.Monks director directing (left) from OB truck and (right) from home
By contrast, in a traditional workflow utilizing an OB production truck, team members would typically fly into each city and commute to the event location. The power-intensive specialized video equipment inside the production truck would run off electricity from the local production grid of varying carbon intensities, or in some cases where specialized power connections are not available, using electricity provided by diesel-burning generators. Using minimal gear shipped in crates avoids this waste incurred while mitigating financial and operational complexities that risk a project’s feasibility.
Figure 3. Comparison of Media.Monks workflow on AWS versus a legacy broadcast workflow
For its live event production workflow, Media.Monks used AWS Direct Connect to transmit the secure reliable transport (SRT) video streams to the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). SRT video streams are received by G4dn EC2 instances, then processed to project correctly inside the virtual reality headset. Those video streams are converted to the Network Device Interface (NDI) protocol to interface with a range of video, audio, and graphics mixing software, including Viz Vectar Plus, vMix, TouchDesigner, Reaper, OBS, Nimble Live Transcoder, and more running on Amazon EC2 G4dn and G5 instances with x86 processors and NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs). The director and other production team members use Parsec remote desktop software to engineer and direct the show. Additional feeds are delivered from remote studios in Chicago and Los Angeles using a low-latency WebRTC protocol. The final output is streamed over SRT to a transcoder and origin server to produce an adaptive bit rate (ABR) HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) protocol stream. The final stream deliverers to Meta Quest headsets using the Amazon CloudFront content delivery network (CDN).
Figure 4. Media.Monks workflow built on AWS
Media.Monks’ new AWS-supported workflow reduces travel-related emissions and realizes further energy efficiency and carbon reduction advantages offered by AWS. 451 Research finds that AWS customers can lower their workload carbon footprint by nearly 80% compared to surveyed enterprise data centers, and up to 96% when AWS is powered by 100% renewable energy – a target AWS is on path to meet by 2025. Media.Monks runs its primary workload out of the AWS Northern Virginia region, one of the 13 AWS regions powered by over 95% renewable energy in 2021. The Media.Monks workflow also aligns with best practices and guidance from the AWS Well-Architected Framework (WAFR) Sustainability Pillar. The WAFR Sustainability Pillar provides design principles, operational guidance, best practices, potential trade-offs, and improvement plans customers can use to optimize the sustainability of their AWS workloads. Examples of Sustainability Pillar best practices that Media.Monks employed on this workload include: right-sizing instances, turning off instances after a production, caching video content closest to end-users, utilizing GPU-based instances for video encoding, and archiving media using energy-efficient archival-class storage.
Reporting from the AWS customer carbon footprint tool
When Media.Monks finished production for the 2022 season, it was interested in understanding the carbon footprint of the AWS infrastructure used for the broadcast of these major sports league games to virtual reality headsets. For this purpose, Media.Monks used the AWS customer carbon footprint tool (CCFT) to estimate its AWS carbon footprint. This tool allows customers to view estimates of the carbon emissions associated with their AWS products and services. Customers can view customer Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by geography, top service, carbon emission statistics, and the path to 100% renewable energy.
Figure 5: Screen capture of the Media.Monks AWS customer carbon footprint tool dashboard
As depicted in Figure 5, for the month of March 2022 Media.Monks’ use of AWS cloud services resulted in just 0.1 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) for Scope 1 and 2 emissions. CCFT also estimates a 91% reduction of carbon emissions compared to running broadcasts on-premises. 0.1 MTCO2e was saved by using AWS computing services and 1.0 MTCO2e was attributable to AWS renewable energy purchases. Putting that into perspective, a single round-trip flight from New York City (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) is 0.558 tons of carbon dioxide per passenger, according to estimates from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) carbon emissions calculator.
An AWS cloud-based workflow allowed Media.Monks to avoid travel-related emissions, use AWS energy-efficient servers, and operate within an AWS Region powered by over 95%+ renewable energy, which in turn allowed Media.Monks to reduce its Scope 3 carbon emissions by reducing its employee travel to broadcast production locations by 75%. And at the same time, Media.Monks gained other benefits from the cloud, including business agility and cost benefits compared to producing broadcast events using traditional means and OB trucks. Other media organizations can use a similar model to evaluate whether they can realize the benefits of AWS to rethink their business, limit the amount of carbon they produce, and reduce their carbon impact on the world.
In this Where Media Lives video podcast, Alyson Stewart of Amazon Web Services (AWS) is joined by Lewis Smithingham, Senior Vice President of Innovation at Media.Monks. Lewis and Alyson discuss how remote, cloud-powered workflows can reduce the carbon footprint of live broadcast applications.