With advanced content storage management systems doing the drudge work of finding and transferring content, producers and journalists have the time and freedom to focus on creating compelling news stories and reaching the most viewers in the shortest amount of time.
The inefficiencies of today’s typical news production workflow, a hybrid that relies on both analog videotape and file-based acquisition, will soon make it outmoded in a world where viewers demand compelling and timely high-quality content at their convenience on whatever screen is handy — laptop, smart phone or TV set. Replacing videotape field acquisition with digital devices, like those from Thomson and Sony, is an obvious way to improve editing efficiency and content turn-around times, but just as important to creating compelling and rich content is fast and efficient access to large historical footage collections facilitated by content storage management (CSM) systems.
A file-based workflow’s storage infrastructure is usually composed of online, nearline, archive and offline tiers, each providing differing content access and retrieval times but also characterized by significantly different capital costs. Online storage is the most expensive but provides the most immediate access to content, with offline — in other words a data tape on a shelf — the least expensive and least accessible.
CSM solutions are server-based software middleware that reside between the so-called media network, which connects various broadcast devices, and the storage network, which connects the nearline and archive storage tiers. CSM solutions abstract the complexities of the underlying storage and networking infrastructure and simply appear as a “black box” of infinitely scalable tiers of storage.
Typically, CSM solutions handle the broadcast asset from online storage through nearline, archive, offline and back, which eliminates the need for a proprietary control layer between online and nearline storage. This is one of the most important differentiators between IT-centric hierarchical storage management (HSM) solutions and the media-centric CSM solutions core to the most dynamic, flexible and scalable file-based media organizations in the world.
It used to be that CSM systems were also known as archive management systems, but today that’s a misnomer. In fact, the focus of CSM today is to perform distribution and content exchange that supports interoperability and collaboration within the active media workflow. Advanced CSM solutions can facilitate content repurposing by performing timecode-based partial restore; in-path high and low bit rate content transcoding; rules-based subjective quality assessment and automatic site-to-site content distribution; and replication for disaster recovery and business continuance. A CSM solution handles media assets as much more than simply files moving through a storage infrastructure.
A CSM system in an advanced, file-based newsroom delivers significant storage efficiencies and cost benefits in comparison to a hybrid or videotape-based system. Expensive nonlinear, online shared storage may have sufficient capacity for three to seven days worth of immediately available raw footage and the various news stories/serials in production, while the less expensive nearline spinning disk arrays under control of the CSM solution may hold 30 days or more of quickly accessible content.
In the high-capacity archive library, many years of content can be stored and accessed in minutes. Meanwhile, the offline data media shelves can hold an effectively infinite amount of content, which can be accessed as quickly as a librarian can insert the required piece of data media into the archive library.
The technical and performance characteristics of each of these tiers of storage can be tuned and abstracted by the CSM solution to make the most relevant news stories and deep historical content accessible to editors and journalists in a near-immediate fashion.
Just as important as the technical features is CSM’s potential to improve news-story quality dramatically — and the competitive edge — of a news operation. Any production step that involves videotape is delayed by the need for slower than real-time review, shotlisting and digitization. For example, suppose a journalist wants to include archival footage of regional weather events in a news story about climate change. A search of the videotape catalog generates pointers to 10 videotapes, which she filters down to five using relevancy measurements.
After finding the tapes on the archive shelves, she quickly screens them for herself in another room. Shuttling through this media, she generates a shotlist with timecode marks identifying the two-to-three minutes of raw content to be cut down and included in her piece. At this point, she re-ingests the material into the edit platform and quality checks it. The news story can then be produced and is finally ready for broadcast.
This is the time-honored way of producing news stories, one that requires hours of inefficient work for a couple of minutes of footage. Worse, the best shots may be overlooked because there’s not enough time to screen hours of archival footage or because metadata is faulty or inadequate. In contrast, a CSM system — properly implemented — allows the same journalist to review a comprehensive index of archival material directly from her workstation. The index includes thumbnails and browseable proxy copies of clips in addition to deep metadata records to assist in identifying the best shots.
Once key shots are identified, the CSM solution can quickly perform timecode-based partial restore operations on the high-resolution versions of the content and push these segments directly to the nonlinear editing environment for finishing. This not only saves incalculable time, it gives her access to vastly more content, all of which potentially improves the quality of her work.
Further, because this screening is done via a Web browser directly from her desktop, valuable screening rooms and editing stations are not tied up for videotape review and shot reingest. Once complete, the newly produced news story can be immediately played to air via traditional methods, while in parallel, sent back to the CSM solution, which can automatically transcode it to a myriad of formats and deliver it to online portals (news website, iTunes, YouTube, etc) driving additional viewership and potentially even additional revenue.
A videotape-centric workflow simply can’t keep up with the constant demands of today’s voracious consumers of news — consumers likely to be watching compelling and rich content at all times of day on all manner of mobile, IPTV and other devices. Even if current acquisition and production workflows have been transitioned to files, relying on legacy videotape-based archives can still be catastrophic to the agility of a news operation.
Once the transition to a file-based workflow has been achieved, it is imperative that CSM solutions are leveraged to further optimize and refine the overall operation. The most advanced of these solutions provide reliable, almost immediate access to vast content repositories, thus allowing content creators easily to find and draw on the full range of stored content.
With advanced CSM systems doing the drudge work of finding and transferring content, producers and journalists have the time and freedom to focus on creating compelling news stories and reaching the most viewers in the shortest amount of time.
Brian Campanotti is chief technology officer of Front Porch Digital Inc., responsible for global media content storage management, file-based workflows, high efficiency mass-migration and digitization solutions and intelligent media asset management. He can be reached at [email protected].