National Geo Explores New Revenue Streams


The technical challenges for digital-asset management go well beyond making it easier to track down video and audio material for use on-air. There is also the challenge of implementing a system approach that can open up new revenue streams.

The National Geographic Film Library is the most recent media company to make it possible for potential clients to search, sort and select video assets through the Internet. Matthew White, vice president of National Geographic Television & Film's Film Library, discusses the ins and outs of getting the system up and running with Assistant Managing Editor Ken Kerschbaumer.

When National Geographic first began looking into digital-asset management, what were the options available, and what were the different approaches that could have been taken?

When we were first going into asset management, there were numerous choices available, so we first needed to define the system that would work best for us. Our first challenge was finding an effective system for indexing the material and images. With so many images, it was crucial to be able to categorize them, so it needed to have an effective and easy metadata system that would correctly and easily identify segments or scenes from a specific video. That presented a challenge for us since most of the video in our library exists in analog-tape form, so we didn't have digital assets to work from. That led to the creation of digital versions of our assets, which was a very time-consuming task. Ultimately, the process and the system gave us access to the video content through a digital system, which we can now offer to our internal production units and our expanding client base.

How does the system work?

We go through a process where we encode the materials internally versus outsourcing the work. We encode the video from an analog-tape source and create a digital file and then use a tool to catalog this digital file. This cataloguing tool allows us to record when a scene in the digital file begins and ends. We can also break it down into individual shots and describe the subjects in the shots.

All of this information goes into a database posted to the hosting site, which our clients can access and navigate. The end result is, our clients now have the ability to access metadata about our video, then stream the files from their location anywhere in the world.

Obviously, the goal with these systems is to make them as automated as possible to reduce head count, etc. How many people are involved in the day-to-day operation of the system?

Actually, it would be erroneous to say that this system was designed to automate a process and give us the ability to reduce our workforce. We evaluated the needs of our clients and have staffed up accordingly while relying on the strengths of the system. So we have one database administrator and then several individuals involved in encoding the video and cataloguing.

What is the potential for this system in terms of return on investment?

While I can't discuss exact dollar figures, I can tell you that we anticipate double-digit revenue increases on a year-to-year comparison, as this area is one of the fastest-growing new businesses for the National Geographic Society due to the enormous demand for the material. What is interesting about this business is that the demand is coming from a number of businesses, including television production, advertising agencies, education, broadband and new-media companies.

What was the biggest challenge to getting the system up and running?

The biggest challenge was to find a system that would work internally for all the divisions at National Geographic Television and Film as well as for our clients because, from an internal standpoint, we're a multifaceted organization. It consists of people involved in the production and post-production of television programs, the- atrical features, large-format films, DVD materials, and home-entertainment products. The biggest challenge was trying to get a consensus on the needs of the different groups that need to get access to the files and ultimately accessing information.

Was there any aspect that was easier than you thought it would be?

No. We needed to convert our video from analog to digital, and there is no single standard system available to accomplish this.

Now that you've been through the experience, what would be your advice to other organizations looking at new asset-management systems? Are there any pitfalls or other things they need to look out for?

The biggest issue is whether the system is going to be used as a production tool or as a marketing/research tool. Either direction requires a separate set of requirements. Suffice it to say, it is essential to have a solid foundation as to who you are developing the system for.