Rapidly expanding content libraries have made media asset management indispensible for broadcasters and content creators
By Satyam Nagwekar
Thousands of terabytes of content is being created by modern digital production workflows every day. As a result, asset management tools such as media asset management (MAM) have assumed a new level of importance. MAM solutions are needed to search and locate media, move it between the components of the production process, and, finally, archive it. An ideal MAM solution is expected to provide one system for all departments across the enterprise–be it programming, legal, marketing, syndication, broadcast operations, or digital–along with partner and stakeholder ecosystems.
Today, innovations in technology offer broadcasters new possibilities in leveraging MAM to automate tasks that were hitherto manual. For instance, automation of promo versions rendering or re-timing of subtitles when versioning edits of masters are created, are all possible using a single MAM solution.
A good MAM solution is a prerequisite for a broadcaster or content creator. Given the high entry barrier of typical MAM systems, however, many smaller companies have built Excel-based MAMs allowing rudimentary features with manual media movement and management. “For broadcasters, an effective MAM implementation can reduce manual processes, errors, and costs by reducing the need for production and online storage and replacing it with just-in-time retrieval of material from MAM,” said K Yegneshwara Iyer, head of technology, technical & broadcast operations, Times Television Network.
Rajesh Sharma, VP (broadcast operations) at TV18 Broadcast, agreed. “For the news business, the online access of content and churning stories for distribution in a short time frame is key. As we operate 21 TV news channels, besides online news portals, the access to archived content for journalists sitting at various news rooms and the process of fast retrieval is paramount to the solution’s acceptability.”
In all the cases, security of the content was to be addressed with utmost priority and without impacting the workflow efficiency, he added.
“MAM plays an extremely critical role in the broadcast space–right from content ingest to play-out and archiving. It is used to manage, review, process, and publish content across all the platforms and devices of the broadcast universe. MAM can thus help broadcasters drive creative enablement, enhance efficiencies, and lower the total cost of operations,” said Ramki Sankaranarayanan, founder and CEO, Prime Focus Technologies.
From Iyer’s perspective, the immediate benefits of MAM implementation were manifold. “Access to material was democratised. It was not confined to a library anymore. Moreover, with archival tied to MAM, preservation of material became easier. The protection of critical material also became easier. If you had the required rights, you could find what you wanted without depending on someone else to search.”
Farzin Najmi, VP (ops & tech), CNBC TV18 Broadcast, said, “The Avid Interplay MAM solution is being implemented across Network18 for all its channels. The intent is to have a centralised repository content library for user access and syndication for the new media digital team as well as broadcast. The MAM for our entertainment arm, Viacom 18, is already being implemented, commissioned, and used.” Once completed, the implementation at Network18 would be one of the biggest integrated multi-site MAM solutions globally.
So, how can legacy archives be efficiently transitioned in a new MAM deployment?
Mike Palmer, VP (business strategy), Masstech, said, “The first step is to preserve assets and any associated metadata. This might be as simple as ingesting a full digital or analogue tape along with a date and photos of a tape label. If the content has been already digitised, moving the content and metadata to stable storage should be the priority.”
Added Sankaranarayanan, “Content owners these days are compelled to convert legacy content into digital formats. Once an asset has been digitised, it can be effectively transitioned into a MAM deployment.” Depending on the condition of the content, this can also involve processes like quality control, correction of audio defects as well as picture and sound restoration. The most important thing is to identify critical data. “A data classification system and process should be invested in. Business owners should participate in and articulate their understanding of the criticality of the various materials to be managed by the AM platform. Once old material has been identified, an ongoing process for classification of new material should be implemented and followed,” Iyer pointed out.
The next step is to define and create a set of rules to identify legacy and everyday material. These should include all data points that anyone in the future could need to find that material. “Ask the end user, ‘How would you search for material like this?’ Also ask a cross section of users the same question. You will find that people search for the same content in different ways depending on the context of their use. Apply the answers received from such a survey to form the rules that will define what metadata will be associated with every piece of material that will go under the control of the MAM. Start with legacy content that is most critical and content that is most recent.”
The trick is to not attempt everything—protect, segment, and enrich—in a single step. “Protect the content first and get it into digital form. Once in digital form, multiple operators in any number of locations can begin to enrich and segment the content, making it more convenient to use. In the meantime, multiple users can still search and access content faster using a simple date search than they could sort through shelves of tape in a basement using a tape machine,” said Palmer.
Iyer stated that putting the solution together to ensure proper sizing was the biggest challenge. Furthermore, the arduous process of identifying material to be managed by the AM system, converting it to a digital format that would be usable in the long term, and then tagging it with the correct metadata so that discovery would be easier than a manual library were some of the biggest challenges. “We are blessed with some of the best technical manpower and as such did not need to look for expertise outside our team. We did, however, engage a third party to help with conversion of our legacy material to a format where it would be managed by the AM platform.”
Moreover, MAM may be the only solution for the vast amount of content being generated now. “The nature and working of these systems may change over the years but they will all still manage assets. YouTube is MAM. So is Netflix.”
“Almost all MAM vendors are cognisant of the need for customers to do more in lesser time and are gearing up to the various challenges being thrown at them. I am confident that MAM vendors will catch up with security, cost, faster access, and other demands being placed on them,” he added. According to him, MAM is the right solution for small content aggregators. “All aggregators track the material they are bringing on board their platform—from acquisition to expiry. This can help them track license usage, reduce the risk of overuse penalties, help cross-index material from multiple sources, track ownership, and allow their customers to find the real videos.”
Najmi said that with the business being spread across locations, the Avid MAM had to be planned for a multi-site environment that would cater to the business’s functional needs and provide a standard operating procedure to unify the content archival at all locations.
Today, MAM is also offered as a SaaS (software as a service) model, which does not require upfront capex. MAM solutions also manage metadata, multiple dub and subtitle files, and a host of other data that is needed for linear and non-linear play-out. “Powered by hybrid cloud architecture, MAM can offer media management capabilities across global sites, including public cloud infrastructure like AWS,” Sankaranarayanan said.
Added Sharma, “When there is a large quantum of legacy content, the best way to manage media assets is to run the new and old system parallelly for some time till content migration finishes. This way, the user has access to both legacy and new content. Migration of legacy content and its integration with Avid MAM can be a challenge. We were following a particular workflow for the media management, which was different than the Avid MAM workflow, and could not be incorporated directly into the Avid workflow. This required end users to adopt a workflow that was new to them and were not comfortable using.”
Manual description and transcription of content by skilled archivists will nearly always provide the best possible descriptions which, in turn, optimise the accessibility of content. Often, however, only the most valuable content can justify this expense.
It is important to migrate existing metadata and proxies for legacy assets to ensure easy accessibility. “Technical and descriptive metadata should be generated as part of the ingest process. Furthermore, content should be enriched with catalogued metadata to ensure best results during searches,” added Sankaranarayanan.
“Automated scene and object recognition and speech transcription and segmentation can be applied at less expense, with greater speed, to larger volumes of content using either local or cloud-based resources,” observed Palmer. At the low end, a practical method is to associate related files to the assets. Because these files already exist, they just need to be attached to the asset and they immediately provide rich descriptive metadata. This has the benefit of not only being the least expensive option but it also provides immediate access to a larger number of users and enables more sophisticated automated or manual processes to be subsequently applied.
“Effective cloud-based MAM virtualises the content supply chain and brings content to the centre of the business allowing stakeholders to access their content anytime, anywhere, and on any device. Furthermore, a MAM built on hybrid cloud architecture enables users to run workflows on the cloud while retaining their priceless assets in-premise,” Sankaranarayanan pointed out.
To address the challenges of delivering content in a TV Everywhere universe, MAM systems have evolved rapidly over the last few years to handle larger volumes of content and more users and playout platforms. With the extent of digitisation only set to increase, MAM, with its versatility, fits the bill.