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Conquering DAM

The goal is to make control of digital assets invisible 11/09/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Under ideal circumstances, digital asset management (DAM) is the technology equivalent of oxygen in the air: It's always there, but you never notice it. Unfortunately, as facilities grow in complexity, in either sheer size or the number of media types and devices, digital asset management can sometimes seem like a hike to the summit of Mt. Everest: The lack of oxygen is not only palpable but downright painful.

"Standalone asset management is not a very desirable product for the industry," says Dave Schleifer, director of Avid Broadcast and Workgroups. "We often say that no one wants to stop working on what they are doing to go work on an asset-management system."

Or, as Mike Cronk, general manager and vice president of servers, digital news production, for Thomson Broadcast & Media Solution Group, puts it, "DAM will be successful when people don't have to say it!"

The need for digital asset management has grown increasingly important in an era when videotapes are rapidly turning into video files. It's imperative that all that content sitting in vast server or data-tape repositories be easy to find and use. And, most important, today's media environment—whose mantra is increasingly reissue, repackage, resell—demands that content quickly find its way to Internet sites, affiliate news sources, and sister stations and networks.

"Broadcasters need to manage the entire media life cycle, not just assets," says Michael Koetter, BBC Technology vice president, technology, North America. "Media life-cycle management includes asset management, but it is primarily about workflow, automation, integration of various processes, and integration with business systems."

The difficulty for the majority of broadcasters in the U.S. is that an all-encompassing approach can be a capital-budget hog, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Companies like BBC Technology and Autonomy are looking to change that, as they make systems that can scale down as easily as they scale up.

"Colledia offers a fully user-configurable data model, workflow engine and business-rules engine," says Koetter of his company's system. "None of the system is hardcoded for a particular environment and can be quickly and efficiently tailored to meet the needs of individual customers."

All asset management begins with metadata, and that can run the gamut from handwritten notes to spreadsheets to other forms of electronic descriptors.

For example, Pinnacle's metadata, like more and more manufacturers' metadata, is XML-based. In Pinnacle's case, it is exchanged between Pinnacle applications, such as the Vortex news editor or the company's line of character generators, and is searchable via SQL database. Avid also tracks metadata automatically, as well as the associations that are built between items as users work with a given piece of content. That automatic tracking, which lessens the possibility of human error and also allows station personnel to focus on their primary job function, has turned out to be an important feature for all manufacturers and end-users.

Thomson's approach, Cronk notes, is exemplified by ContentShare, an information-sharing technology, and products like the NewsBrowse Web-based browser/editor. "The NewsBrowse system can schedule recording of high-resolution and low-resolution media, collect and add metadata, and track the movement of the assets across standalone and shared-storage Profile servers and other devices."

Says Schleifer, "It's critical for smaller facilities that they not need to add on staff in order to take advantage of the integrated asset management. Roles within the facility may change, but the benefits need to be delivered without increasing the cost of operations."

Such cost pressures are one reason standalone DAM systems have not found a home in any but the largest facilities. The Virage VideoLogger (Virage is now owned by Autonomy) is used at CNN, CBS, ESPN and Fox Sports. But it has yet to populate local broadcast stations, outside of its use by WorldNow, the Internet content aggregator whose member stations use it to log content that is then sent to WorldNow.

Virage, according to CTO Bradley Horowitz, hasn't seen the adoption of its technology at the affiliate level because it's either too expensive or the human resources aren't available. The system uses Autonomy's speech- and face-recognition technology (called IDOL, or Intelligent Data Operating Layer) to mark scene in and out points. It also uses captioning information to make word searches more accurate.

"Our system works by bringing in content, automatically logging it into our database, and then sending a low-resolution copy of the video to the video equivalent of a card catalog," says Horowitz. "Anyone with Internet access can then preview the proxy and deliver it by whatever means they use today."

The defining aspect of all the approaches to asset management is the communication between devices. Kovalick says several companies sell the "middleware" that interfaces to servers on one side and to archive robotics on the other. Among them: EMC, SGL, Front Porch Digital and Masstech, to name a few.

"In the end, a server is agnostic to what the actual storage format of the archive is, be it optical, tape or, someday, holographic," he says. "The archive middleware hides all the details from the end media application."

As if asset management isn't challenging enough in the world of tape and servers there is a new format that promises to find its way into archive systems: Sony's XDCAM optical-disc system. Sony's system will be able to transfer up to 17.5 MBps and write at speeds of 9 MBps to optical discs with 23.3 GB of storage.

"Within a newsroom, daily footage coming in could be placed into a storage unit that provides enough capacity for a day's or week's worth of discs," explains Yuhas. "It could sit as networked attached storage so that all journalists linked can quickly and randomly access the proxy and review edit-decision-list creation." After a week, material could be sent to the main server, and, when their useful life is past, assets can be moved from the main server to an automated data-tape library for long-term archive.

"The key axiom in DAM is to capture as many assets as early as possible," says Cronk. "Linking data with material is key. Realistically, however, not all material streaming into a facility is accompanied with this advanced metadata."

Whether now is the time your facility wants to take a deeper look at DAM depends on this year's budget, tomorrow's plans and yesterday's processes. All manufacturers agree that a proper DAM system will affect everything from story assignment notes to archive. Everything in between is up for grabs.

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