Vendors of media access management products will be promoting their systems at April’s NAB Show to buyers who are increasingly interested in the savings and revenue-generating possibilities such systems offer. As Avid’s Jim Frantzreb notes: “Our customers perceive that asset management has gone from being a nice-to-have solution to something essential to any competitive media business.”
In a few years, media access management (MAM in the trade) has gone from a more efficient way to sort and store news footage to become the backbone of station operations. Nearly every station department — news, promotion, graphics, sales and certainly engineering — interacts with or depends upon the station’s MAM system.
At the 2012 NAB Show, the top MAM vendors will introduce still more features and greater workflow efficiencies, with an emphasis on automation; more flexible control of media at the station and through mobile devices; and playout to a wide range of video platforms. Some vendors will even stretch the definition of media management to automatically confirm commercial runs and generate client invoices.
And because it’s expensive and time-consuming for stations to replace entire media asset systems, leading vendors struggle to make the same contradictory case: that their products are the most compatible with competing platforms yet technically superior on their own.
A quick rundown of what’s on tap on the exhibit floor:
- Harris will feature its Invenio MAM software integrated with its NewsForce server/editing platform.
- Avid’s 2012 lineup at NAB emphasizes improvements in “workflow orchestration,” innovative control of automation and remote access over mobile devices.
- SGL will introduce advances in scalable long-term storage.
- Grass Valley will introduce its channel-in-a-box product tied to more powerful and precise media manipulation and storage.
- NVerzion will announce improved systemwide controls, cross-platform operation, automatic ingest from media services and automated commercial traffic and client billing.
- Front Porch Digital expands the features of its media management and archiving systems and debuts a bold new cloud-based service for media storage and emergency restoration.
This year, Harris is aiming for a larger share of the call-letter market by integrating its Invenio MAM software with its NewsForce platform, which combines Nexio servers and Velocity editing. The MAM-enhanced NewsForce is compatible with either of the two most popular newsroom systems, AP’s ENPS and Avid iNews. “You can drag and drop from the rundown into the media management software and vice versa,” says Cindy Parrish, product line manager at Harris Digital Asset Management. “It’s really an end-to-end solution.”
Included with the MAM software is News Fish, an app designed to facilitate the collection and use of video from smartphones shot either by reporters and producers or from viewers who happen to be in the right spot at the right time.
“You can brand it as your own call letter app,” says Parrish. “People who download it can take videos and they can send it into your station. They can attach metadata to it … and the station then can use it however they want to.”
The app is also designed to overcome one of the problems inherent in user-generated video,” Parrish says. “There’s something in there when you download the app that says whatever you send to the station is its property. So there’s not any issue as far as legal stuff goes.”
A geo-location feature lets the station know where the app users are and where their video was shot. “If there’s a late-breaking story at a particular location, you can go and say, OK, so-and-so is the closest one to it. Send him over there and get him to take some shots,” says Parrish.
It also helps with the citizen journalists, she says. “If something does come up you can verify that they were where they said they were.”
Jim Frantzreb, Avid‘s senior segment manager of media enterprises, says, “Anything that’s not creative, you want to automate or get rid of.” And Avid Interplay MAM, Version 4 simplifies or eliminates many repetitive tasks from the workflow such as meta-tagging at ingest, distribution to workgroups and tracking multiple versions of the same content. This latest upgrade segregates Avid Interplay’s production and asset manager functions, allowing them to interoperate or to be used separately.
“We call this workflow orchestration and we brought it to a new level with graphical modeling,” says Frantzreb. “You can design your own automated workflow with drag-and-drop icons that show the software and devices in relationship to one another and how each action leads to the next.”
Avid also made Interplay’s video browsing features “more responsive and frame accurate” and offers almost a dozen Interplay configurations to ensure a scalability from small production companies to entire station groups or networks. Frantzreb says the company will be making some significant announcements at NAB concerning workflow capabilities and hints that the new products will be similar to last year’s Interplay Central tools for Web-based journalists.
“iPad capabilities are also a big theme; you’ll be able to do much more in a mobile way,” Frantzreb says. This is also true for Avid’s Media Composer, NewsCutter and Avid Motion Graphics, each of which have recently been upgraded and designed to interoperate closely with the Interplay MAM4 system.
Avid also manufactures and markets the Isis 5000 line of networked storage servers, with up to 144 terabytes of usable capacity, but the Interplay systems are designed to interface with storage hardware from a variety of vendors. “We interface most with Spectra Logic and Oracle’s StorageTek,” says Frantzreb, who adds that “SGL is our principle partner in the archive management area.”
In fact, the SGL website lists Avid Interplay Archive as a joint product and boasts of the two companies’ “unique level of co-development.” But then, this 20-year pioneer in the digital storage also enjoys partnerships with most industry MAM vendors. Product Manager Harold Twine attributes this to the scalability, flexibility and clustered architecture of SGL’s flagship FlashNet storage solutions.
“There is no dedicated hardware component for specific functions like data movers,” says Twine. “Users can start with a single box and expand up to a fully redundant, high availability, high bandwidth archive solution.”
That flexibility is also apparent in SGL’s newest hardware, the Linear Tape File System, which SGL previewed last year, but is just now releasing. “LTFS is a big part of what we’ll show at NAB,” says Twine. “It redefines how data is written on LTO-5 tape so the content can even be viewed outside of an archive solution like FlashNet.” For example, with LTFS you can drag and drop content directly to a PC or Mac or to a standalone LTO-5 tape drive, even without a MAM system. This allows users to import or export content from or to the archive without the need to ingest it from videotape.
But when used in concert with FlashNet, LTFS delivers a new level of archival automation. LTFS is “self-describing content media,” which makes FlashNet “aware” of each media asset as it appears in the archive, automatically shuttling it to appropriate workflows. That’s because LTFS uses SGL’s existing XML-based API, which lets nearly any combination of disk or tape hardware store content. The API lets Flashnet automatically migrate content from disk to archival tapes as if they were stored in one location — not incidentally providing SGL’s third-party partners with an open-standard, non-proprietary path to easy integration with LTFS and Flashnet.
“LTFS is the next natural progression for any MAM system,” says Twine. “Some people are looking to use LTO-5 tape as a direct replacement for Sony SR.” Alongside the LTFS archiving solutions, SGL will also showcase its progress with emerging media wrappers like AS02, another “self-describing” technology designed for mastering, as well as other promising formats like IMF (Interoperable Master Format.) FlashNet already contains the API’s needed to incorporate these complex file based workflows.
Two new Grass Valley products making their first appearance at NAB take a somewhat different approach to interoperability: the K2 Edge Integrated Playout systems and the TX/MAM server. While each is compatible with a range of third-party platforms, Grass Valley recommends they be used together, and sells them that way.
The KT Edge series is a “channel-in-a-box” solution that integrates graphics and other functions typically spread among various devices and platforms. “Many MAM systems are overly complicated when they have to manage a host of third-party products,” says Grass Valley’s VP of Media Playout Solutions Harold Vermeulen. “KT Edge with TX/MAM simplifies the technology and offers a streamlined, more powerful workflow to customers.” Vermeulen should know. Both products were originally developed by Publitronics, the Dutch company that Vermeulen founded and sold to Grass Valley last fall.
There are three K2 Edge-TX/MAM playout systems at three levels of capability: K2 Edge Express for entry-level channels with minimal graphics needs; K2 Edge Pro for main-line channels with more sophisticated graphics; and K2 Edge Elite, which handles up to four external HD sources, multichannel graphics and DVE moves. “For QVC in Europe, we completely automated their promotion and selling process, including real-time interface with their inventory database,” Vermeulen says.
Such automated micromanagement is possible because the TX/MAM system doesn’t merely sort completed media by metadata tags, it defines media assets by all of the component essences that are matched to each specific piece of media. These are commonly encoded in Material Exchange Format (MXF) data. Sophisticated use of essences allows the K2 Edge system to display different transcoded versions of any content “at different resolutions, with different branding and graphics for different geographic regions and with alternate audio languages or subtitles,” says Vermeulen.
To help customers define the look of each on-air channel, Grass Valley also sells Channel Composer, which imports and positions (but does not create) graphic elements from most major applications, such as Maya, Photoshop and After Effects. Channel Composer also sets up animation timelines, templates for real-time video streams or data streams such as stock tickers, sports scores and emergency alerts.
For live production, the K2 Edge-TX/MAM systems can interface with Grass Valley’s Stratus collaborative workflow tools. They also work in combination with the company’s IT-based K2 Summit and K2 SAN storage solutions, which are also scalable. K2 Edge-TX/MAM systems range from $25,000 to $500,000, “depending upon performance and throughput requirements plus the number of channels and amount of media storage,” says Vermeulen.
Broadcast automation specialist NVerzion is set to unveil a different take on the station-in-a-box concept with CLASS (Component Automation Level System Solutions). CLASS is designed to appeal to stations already committed to existing third-party platforms and their present workflow. “This is a fully redundant automation platform that enables engineers to retain years of valuable training and experience by integrating with a station’s existing technology,” says NVerzion President Scott Murphy.
In addition to broad compatibility, CLASS provides system-wide control for ingest, traffic, graphics, playout and traffic systems. NVerzion also offers CLASS packages that can include dedicated components for automation, master control and routing, video servers and character generation.
NVerzion will also release an update to NCompass, its software platform that ingests and plays content from a variety of media distribution systems like Pitch Blue and Pathfire. NCompass automatically transcodes the incoming media as needed to ensure compatibility with a station’s MAM and playout system. NCompass’s rules-based interface ensures reliable interpretation of metadata so each program segment, promo or commercial is properly stored and retrieved.
Sales-related media management also gets a significant upgrade at NAB with the new edition of Keep It Simple Schedule (KISS), NVerzion’s integrated traffic and scheduling system. “KISS eases the process of completing sales orders by streamlining scheduling, accounting and even billing,” Murphy says.
In addition to program and promo playout, KISS tracks and confirms which spots ran when and translates that data into text files which can be linked to customer-specific commercial rates. KISS also offers a range of options, including an interface for Quickbooks, to automate accounting and invoicing.
All of these NVerzion products are compatible with the company’s SQL-based NBase MAM software platform, the XPansion file management and archiving software and its scalable TeraStore servers that hold between 4 and 133 terabytes per unit.
Since acquiring SAMMA in 2008, Front Porch Digital calls itself “the global leader in content storage management solutions.” Front Porch’s flagship MAM system, DIVAdirector, can be found in such critical installations as CBS Television City, A&E Television, all 13 Discovery networks and at many major CBS and ABC O&Os and affiliates.
At NAB, Front Porch Digital will launch DIVAdirector version 5.0 which will now include HTTP-based adaptive streaming support, which dynamically switches between different video and audio bit rates depending on network conditions and CPU power. This enables reliable playback without buffering, or “last mile” congestion. DIVAdirector V5.0 can also serve a greater number of simultaneous users and offers portability across leading operating systems, web browsers and proxy formats (WMV and H.264.)
While DIVAdirector is typically part of a station’s news chain, Front Porch’s DIVArchive “can interconnect every element of operations from archive to production to transmission,” says Front Porch Digital’s Chief Technology Officer Brian Campanotti.
Version 7.0 of DIVArchive will be showcased at NAB, featuring support for complex DPX packages, and the ability to ingest and manage film content, making it desirable for film production and postproduction applications. “These enhancements improve the workflow for media operations of every kind — broadcasters, educational and heritage institutions, the film industry, and government entities,” Campanotti says.
Using DIVArchive and the SAMMA robotic ingest and search equipment, the ABC stations archived over 150,000 hours of U-Matic and Beta news footage as well as film transfers. When completed, the ABC stations will be able to instantly search and acquire file-based footage from a communal archive.
DIVArchive V7.0 is also the first system of its kind to implement the new open Archive eXchange format (AXF) technology developed by Front Porch Digital to protect and facilitate the exchange of content among storage systems now and in the future. According to Campanotti, “AXF represents a step toward replacing outmoded legacy formats like TAR with a truly open and storage-agnostic approach ensuring long-term accessibility to the world’s most valuable content.”
Also making its NAB debut is LYNX, Front Porch Digital’s cloud-based environment for managing media from any device or location. “LYNX is our largest R&D investment in more than a decade,” says Campanotti. “It offers media organizations multiple benefits in efficiency, adaptability, on-demand scalability, cost reduction and simplified maintenance.”
Initially, LYNX service will focus on cloud-based remote archiving and disaster recovery. Customers can back up their DIVArchive-ingested tapes to Front Porch Digital’s secure servers in Denver over a closed network or by physically shipping a tape via FedEx. There the tape is ingested then returned. At over 200 hours per data tape and 10 tapes per shipment, stations can protect 2,000 hours of archival material at a time. In the event of a catastrophic data loss, Front Porch can “open up a huge pipe” on demand to give a station instant access to its video history, even as the tape-transfer process is reversed to restore the local library long-term.
Eventually, says Campanotti, LYNX services will “evolve to make it cost-effective to provide things like cloud-based transcoding or reformatting an entire library of shows for clients like Netflix.”
Indeed, Campanotti sees such secondary revenue streams as vital to the future profitability of broadcasting. “Viewers’ demand for content on all screens means money-making opportunities for those with a hefty supply of content on hand. The challenge is making sure that their content is stored securely and can be accessed cost-effectively for repurposing and distribution.”
Avid’s Frantzreb agrees, emphasizing that “asset management is absolutely key. You cannot address the production cost, output and speed challenges of today without it. Our customers perceive that asset management has gone from being a nice-to-have solution to something essential to any competitive media business.”
But still there are technical challenges yet to be overcome or improved. “Bandwidth continues to be the major issue facing the industry. It’s more and more difficult to transfer and store the amount of data our industry generates, says NVerzion’s Murphy. “This is compounded by larger bit rates and the fact that most stations are moving to multichannel installations.”