Is API integration really the answer to painless roundtripping?

04th October 2019

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Very few post-production workflows for professional or broadcast projects are completed in one application nowadays.  Even though the top NLEs include a vast array of powerful colour grading, effects, titling and audio post-production tools, chances are that your workflow will involve a number of roundtrips between your video editing tool and other specialist applications.

But moving media between different applications doesn’t come without complications. It takes time and effort to figure out the best way to transcode, upload, download and relink media – and to preserve valuable clip metadata during each of these processes – and it’s never faultless.  So, it’s not surprising that over the last decade or so, the industry has turned to APIs to provide interoperability.

API : The pros

APIs are nothing new.  They’ve been around for years and there are lots of reasons why integrating APIs into NLEs makes sense.  Editors don’t have to waste time moving media between applications if the process is automated, toolsets can be integrated into the NLE interface making it easier for the editor to work across applications, and the entire workflow is simplified.  Integrations like these might give you access to your media archive from within your editing interface so that you can easily find and include stock footage in your timeline or make ordering transcriptions as simple as selecting the clips or sequence in your NLE and clicking a button.

API : The cons

But it’s not a perfect process.  While it’s true that integrated APIs save editors’ time, they can also take a lot of time to implement and maintain.  Whenever your integrated applications are updated by their developers, the API will need to be checked and tested to make sure that the update hasn’t broken a critical integration pathway.  And the more applications you integrate with, the bigger the technical team you’ll need to monitor and maintain them – which can get expensive.  These integrations can also pose security risks and, even if you have put security measures in place within your system, APIs can provide opportunities for hackers to access your secure systems through less-secure partners.   In addition, running different applications within your edit interface can overload your system’s processors – which is why ScriptSync is often referred to as the Avid killer!

It only takes 1 application to fail for a cascade of failures throughout the whole chain. The greater number of applications, the greater chance one will go wrong.

Finally, your editing tool of choice may be integrated with the most popular or typically-used, associated applications but these aren’t always the tools you need or want to use for every project.  For example, most integrated transcription tools rely on ASR technology which may provide a fast-turnaround product but don’t provide the same quality as human transcribers.  The biggest challenge, arguably, is choosing what to integrate into your product or service in the first place.  There are so many different ways available to do everything from sending a file to transcribing a video and it’s never been easier to bolt together workflows, but we’re spoilt for choice.  In such a fragmented industry, with new players joining all the time it’s difficult to keep track of all the options, assess their value and choose the best solution for your needs.

API’s place in roundtrip workflows

While some parts of the industry have leveraged the benefits of APIs to provide functionality through integration, others avoid the pitfalls by aiming to provide a one-stop-solution within their own suite of products – like The Adobe Creative Cloud or Sony’s Ci Media Cloud Platform.

Using a microservice architecture can reduce the impact when changes are made to integrated technologies.  This building block approach, where individual functionalities are treated separately, means that you can add to, improve or fix individual elements without affecting the whole system.  Take 1’s Cloud is built with microservices, and changes to the platform can be made by simply substituting one microservice for another.

Whether API will continue to be the most efficient way to integrate a fragmented industry remains to be seen, but right now the true answer to painless roundtripping isn’t in technology but in planning and information.  The only way to make your post-production workflow painless is for workflow architects to be informed about the products and services available and the production requirements so that you can put the right technology together to provide the functionality you need.  Exhibitions like IBC and NAB and organisations like the DPP and MESA have critical roles to play in providing this information.

Whether they’re the future of broadcast technology interoperability or not, one thing that APIs have done is to open our eyes to the possibilities of working across products and platforms – resulting in an industry that is far more integrated than ever before.  And that’s got to be a good thing.

API digital connections in purple