A growing number of station groups are realizing the advantages inherent in Web-based centralized storage, especially those that need to share assets. Bitcentral, Front Porch Digital, Avid, Crispin and others are among the vendors offering solutions.
While WNBC Los Angeles chased the story of Michael Jackson’s death and its aftermath, other NBC O&Os were able to dip into its many reports that were quickly piling up in the group’s centralized news storage system at Universal City in Los Angeles and insert them into their own local newscasts.
“The [Bitcentral] Oasis got a good workout with the Michael Jackson story,” said Doug Thurlow, NBC vice president of digital assets for the Local Media Division. “Over the week of the Michael Jackson memorial, we moved 2,439 broadcast-quality clips.”
Web-based centralized storage is becoming a real choice at station groups and other media organizations that share assets, as not just Bitcentral, but also Front Porch Digital, Avid, Crispin and others are offering solutions.
But so far the application is still in its infancy. Other than NBC, the only station group in the U.S. with centralized news storage is Raycom Media. It, too, has adopted the Oasis.
“Customers came to us with this idea,” said Bitcentral President-CEO Fred Fourcher. “The networks were spending a lot of money on satellite feeds and moving assets between the stations. We put it on the Internet and, more importantly, we took the expensive dub-and-feed process and turned it into a self-serve process.”
Technology has also caught up with what’s required to create a robust centralized storage asset management system. Booming bandwidth — easy accessibility of bigger pipes at a cheaper price — and improved codecs (such as MPEG-4 in Avid’s case) allowing even more video compression are two of the driving factors.
Another factor is the dramatically lowered cost of storage. “You can pay $6,500 for 15 terabytes from Dell that goes into two rack units,” said Fourcher. “It’s so cheap to add storage; it’s not an issue.”
NBC was the pilot site for Bitcentral’s Oasis.
“We have it to avoid the cost of satellite windows,” said Thurlow. “It pulls the metadata from iNews and associates it with the clips, and it’s all done automatically. As the clips go into the Oasis box at each station, a proxy goes into Universal City, and makes the story immediately viewable by all the O&Os in a Web browser.”
For the NBC stations, the original assets are stored at the originating station for two to six months, and the proxies and metadata go into NBC’s Isilon storage cluster at Universal City.
“If someone at another station wants a clip, they click a box and the system will deliver either out of Universal City, if the high-res version has migrated there,” said Thurlow. “If not, it sets up a peer-to-peer transfer.”
“You can quickly find the clip with one click, no matter what station it is in the group,” Fourcher added. “You click to request it, and you’ll have the video on your desktop in 10 to 15 minutes with a T-1 connection.”
For NBC, added Fourcher, 80 percent of the news they request gets where it’s going faster than real time.
Another solution comes from Avid, whose Interplay is “asset management for production,” said Avid’s Jim Frantzreb, senior broadcast segment manager.
“It saves time for production work groups and lets everyone access media instantly. When you have a hot story and tight deadlines, Interplay handles moving the media around, transcoding it and putting it into proxy resolution so you can distribute it — within the building or remotely.”
For a big story such as Michael Jackson’s death, Interplay could help media companies leverage archival footage and footage from the field, said Frantzreb. “You can have 30 different versions of a story using the same or similar media, with people borrowing from others,” he said. “It keeps track of all that and keeps it orderly.”
Interplay works with Avid’s Isis and its Unity Media Network systems.
“It’s important in these production environments that the system works all the time,” Frantzreb said. “Support becomes an issue if you have parts that come from different vendors. One of our key differentiators is the degree of integration with the Avid editor.”
Nonetheless, over 60 vendors and customers have used Interplay Web APIs to create custom integrations with Interplay, said Frantzreb.
Customers include Sweden’s national public broadcaster, SVT, which recently deployed Avid’s HD News solution across its regional production sites.
Sharing of media assets can be equally important for other media organizations.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints operates a massive worldwide private broadcast network, distributed via satellite, that covers 95 percent of the world, with 96 language services. Content creation also takes place at numerous production centers around the globe, with an estimated 200 hours a month of new content.
The organization relies on Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive and is now adding DIVAdirector, a distributed Web-based content management application.
Richard Duke, production networks specialist/manager of support services, reported that the LDS Church currently stores 3 pedabytes of media on a 120-TB Isilon server, HP servers and other storage solutions.
“Our use of DIVAdirector gets us towards our next phase: putting a full-blown digital asset management system on top of this,” said Duke. “This allows us to look into the archive and browse our video content. And the [Front Porch] system is holding up very well.”
Though centralized storage asset management solutions are still fairly new in the broadcast environment, Fourcher believes that adoption will soar as station archives become digitized.
“When the station’s archive is tape-based, I’ll ask a station engineer how many times they use it and they’ll say once or twice a month,” he said. “After a nice chunk of their video is online, I’ll ask again, and they’ll say two to three times a day. It becomes a tool they can’t live without.”