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Media Asset Management For The Masses

More and more broadcasters are investing in software-based media asset management systems that use metadata to track a piece of content from ingest through production to playout, then archive it in a way that allows easy future access. Above, a Bitcentral Oasis asset management and archive system at Raycom's WFXG Augusta, Ga. Click here to access TVNewsCheck’s NAB 2018 Resource Guide listing of MAM and storage vendors and products or here to download it as a PDF.

A decade ago, media asset management (MAM) was seen by most broadcasters as a big-ticket, luxury item, feasible for top-tier networks but beyond the financial means of pretty much everyone else.

MAM systems started at several hundred thousands of dollars, counting software and related storage, and often required significant additional spending on complex systems integration to make them actually work. Many broadcasters simply put them aside as a project for tomorrow.

Come 2018, the television industry’s thinking about media asset management has definitely changed.

More and more broadcasters today are investing in software-based MAM systems that use metadata to track a piece of content from ingest through production to playout, then archive it in a way that allows easy future access.

Prices have come down, with many MAM vendors now selling modular solutions that start in the $50,000 range, and new cloud-based services can make archive storage far less expensive than traditional on-premise hardware.

A more important driver, say MAM vendors, is the pressure on broadcasters to compete in today’s multiplatform world, where even small-market TV stations are expected to deliver a wealth of content to the Web and mobile devices in addition to their core broadcasts.

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Having a way to easily find, access and repurpose their assets is now seen as a requirement of doing business.

“There’s a need to produce a lot more content in quantity, and curate pieces for multiple audiences,” says Arnaud Elnecave, VP of marketing for Dalet Digital Media Systems, which counts both the NBC and ABC O&Os as MAM customers. “That calls for a need to be way more efficient.”

The value of a MAM system is in being able to connect with disparate systems in a broadcast plant — or across multiple facilities — to quickly give a broadcaster unfettered access to content.

Improvements in software interfaces and interoperability standards mean that making a MAM system work is a much easier, less costly proposition than 10 or 15 years ago, says Elnecave.

And customers today better understand the value of making the investment, which starts at around $80,000-$90,000 for a system with 25 users and then scales up into the millions for big installations with hundreds of users.

“If you understand how to use it for a good digital transformation, it pays for itself,” Elnecave says.

With so much of broadcasters’ news content going to digital distribution, one of the focuses for Dalet is using data analysis to accurately measure how content is performing on social media platforms like Facebook.

The company is also developing new tools based on artificial intelligence (AI) to help journalists sift through the myriad sources of digital content that they are ingesting in a typical day.

“We’re adding machine learning and AI to help further automate processes with predictive analytics and better recommendations,” Elnecave says. “We’re introducing something called Content Discovery where the platform will suggest content that’s relevant to an assignment or piece they’re working on, and tie it in with video, audio or script, going from the pool of available content.”

MAM vendors like Dalet and Avid have their underpinnings in news production, while others like Pebble Beach and TransMedia Dynamics come from the master control/playout side of the house.

Ross Video, which launched Streamline in 2015 as an extension of technology it originally developed for its Xpression graphics system, is another player in the increasingly crowded MAM marketplace.

“I think that MAM is one thing that most broadcasters are realizing they probably should have invested in years ago, and they are prioritizing to invest in now,” says Jenn Jarvis, marketing product manager for Ross Video’s “Streamline” product.

“When you have an asset, but you actually can’t find it easily, it’s like you don’t have the asset. What’s the use of having it in-house if you can’t find it quickly?”

Tedial provides MAM systems that manage long-form content for marquee customers like Fox, HBO and Sony Pictures, and has been a leader in supporting the SMPTE Interoperable Master Format (IMF) standard, which makes it easier to reversion content for different international markets.

Now the Spanish firm is looking to grow its business into sports production by integrating with production asset management (PAM) systems from EVS and Snell Advanced Media.

The first step, taken last fall, was to create a content ingest tool for live feeds that allows the Tedial Evolution MAM system to share the same files and live metadata as the EVS IPDirector and immediately enter content into archive workflows. An early customer for that system was ITV Sport in London.

Now Tedial has created a new product, “Smart LIVE,” that combines that EVS integration with artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically create sports highlights for on-demand or social media distribution without any manual intervention.

“What we’re trying to do with the metadata is to ingest real-time stats, couple that with an AI engine, and automatically create highlights,” says Jerome Wauthoz, VP of products for Tedial, who will be demonstrating the system at NAB.

Automation supplier Pebble Beach entered the MAM market last year with its Beluga system, which it created in partnership with U.K.-based asset management specialist Blue Lucy.

Beluga offers targeted file delivery, content preparation and integrated QC (quality control) workflows. It builds on content management capabilities that already existed in Pebble Beach’s Marina multichannel ingest and playout product, which is used by Scripps Networks, Bloomberg, Encompass Digital Media and CNBC.

“The entry into content management and workflow orchestration is relatively recent for us,” says Tom Gittins, chief commercial officer for Pebble Beach. “I think, like a number of other companies, our customers want us to come further up the media logistics food chain.”

Gittins has also noticed a shift in the way customers think about investing in MAM, with many aiming for systems with a smaller scope than they would have five or 10 years ago.

“There’s a growing trend toward point-based solutions,” Gittins says. “Customers are forgetting the ideas they used to have, of a huge, overarching MAM system. Now they are happier to identify ‘fenced-in’ areas, specific areas where they can get a solution installed reasonably quickly.”

MAM vendors are responding by selling more modular software products, which work better in an increasingly virtualized broadcast world where functions that used to require a dedicated box now run on common off-the-shelf IT hardware.

Another consideration is cloud-based storage, as some broadcasters are choosing to store archive material that doesn’t require instantaneous access with services like Amazon AWS’ S3 or Microsoft Azure instead of paying for an on-premise system like an LTO (Linear Tape-Open) archive.

“The concept of a MAM is evolving,” says Belsasar Lepe, co-founder and SVP, products and solutions for Oolaya, an online video firm that’s branched into MAM after acquiring Nativ in 2015. “Certainly, you will have use cases where you have to be on-prem, but people are moving to the cloud.”

U.K.-based TransMedia Dynamics (TMD), whose enterprise-class Mediaflex system is used by Discovery for its playout centers in both the U.S. and Europe, has created a scalable, cloud-native version called Mediaflex-UMS (United Media Services) aimed at smaller operations.

“Our trend in the last couple of years is making the product smaller, driven by the needs of the cloud market,” says Paul Wilkins, director of solutions and marketing for TMD.

“Five years ago, MAMs were quite monolithic chunks of software, and that doesn’t lend itself to the cloud. So, we re-architected ourselves into microservices, that all run independently of each other — a single service just handles transcoding, or auto-QC.”

An early customer for Mediaflex-UMS is Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting, which operates multiple stations in several markets as well as the diginets MeTV, Heroes and Icons, Movies! and Decades.

Weigel has purchased Paragon+, a content management system that runs as an application on the Mediaflex-UMS platform. The TMD system will interface with existing program scheduling and playout automation systems and manage multiple tiers of storage, tracking new assets as they arrive and placing them in the appropriate level (play-to-air, nearline or archive servers).

Like most MAM vendors, TMD is agnostic as to what kind of storage customers use, whether it is an on-premise Quantum or Isilon NAS (network attached storage) system, robotic tape storage or a cloud-service like Amazon S3.

“Our product supports a fully virtualized environment, so it’s just a question of how much throughput goes through the machine,” Wilkins says. “Those virtual machines could be hardware servers in your own rack room, or running off a host server in the cloud; it’s irrelevant to us. Where you end up is that most systems really need to be a hybrid, where you still have got some content on-premise.”

Aveco President Jim O’Brien, whose company provides MAM and playout software to companies like Televisa and ESPN Brazil, agrees with the importance of on-premise storage for playout applications.

He cites massive Internet failures in recent years, such as the Mirai botnet attack in October 2016 where three hackers vying with each other in the online game Minecraft took down big chunks of the internet, and the operator error at Amazon Web Services in February 2017 that knocked out several popular websites for hours.

“For going directly to air, the cloud is not great,” O’Brien says. “Play-to-air is still best suited for on-premise systems.”

On the other hand, cloud storage is very effective in news production for quickly and cheaply sharing content among stations. Bitcentral has been using cloud-based architectures for over a decade in its Oasis asset management system.

Oasis started with placing disk-based content servers at TV stations that could store news stories and allow for easy sharing within station groups or from the field via a broadband connection.

Oasis is used today by more than 200 stations including those of the Raycom, Hearst and Tegna station groups. About 500 stories per station, per month are shared by Oasis’s heaviest users, says Bitcentral CEO Fred Fourcher, and stations generally keep about seven days of content on high-speed solid-state servers.

Bitcentral now offers on-site or off-site digital archiving through its Oasis Wellspring product, which can store content on disk-based servers or LTO systems, depending on customer preference.

Fourcher says the key to Oasis’ success has been integration with newsroom computer systems (NCRS) like Avid’s iNews and AP’s ENPS through the MOS (Media Object Server) protocol. That makes accessing the video in Oasis seamless to news directors and reporters using the NCRS, and makes it easy to grab a relevant story from another market to add variety to the nightly newscast.

“When you think about asset management, it comes down to how you tie the workflow together, and unless it’s tied into the workflow, it doesn’t get used,” says Fourcher. “At TV stations, our MAM is seamless into what they do every day.”

An early focus for Bitcentral was providing easy access to the MAM from the field, which Fourcher says was a product differentiator. Now he is looking at “extending an asset management system upstream into the connected camera workflow, and downstream into all connected platforms.”

Bitcentral is working with camera manufacturers that have built-in encoding capabilities in their camcorders to make sure they can transmit files directly into Oasis. It has also created an add-on product to Oasis called Multipath that handles digital distribution to Websites, mobile apps and social media platforms.

Avid is looking to build on the established success of its Interplay platform, which spanned both production and media asset management, with its next-generation MediaCentral product, which is being used by NBC in its Winter Olympics coverage.

MediaCentral has specialized production, editing, graphics and asset management modules and is designed to work on both virtualized platforms (with VMware) and the Microsoft Azure cloud.

“That gives customers flexibility, both from a cost perspective and an operational perspective,” says Ray Thompson, Avid director of broadcast and media solutions marketing. “They can use the cloud, whether that’s a private or private deployment, and take advantage of the flexibility the cloud is affording [them].”

The MediaCentral | Asset Management module runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to exploit Microsoft’s “cognitive services,” bringing AI and machine-learning capabilities to media asset management and news production. Those features include auto-indexing of content; “phrase-find,” searching for specific words in content; speech-to-text capability; and speech recognition, searching for any written word in a document or clip.

“It can find a very specific asset in the library, and then it finds specific places in the clip where the actual word is said,” explains Thompson. “Then you can easily drag and drop that into any product.”

One of the design parameters for MediaCentral was to better allow content sharing across the type of large station groups that were previously Interplay customers. A relevant example would be Sinclair Broadcast Group, which in 2015 signed a 10-year deal with Avid for enterprise-wide editing and content management systems.

“You take a station group with 75 or 80 stations, they may have had Interplay and used it to store assets and archive them,” says Thompson. “But as news stories go from a regional to a national story, grabbing from a silo is rather difficult. With MediaCentral, they can share a common library with powerful metadata to auto-index that content, while taking into consideration new sources.”

Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2018 news here.


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