Half the stands at IBC claim to have asset management products – do they all do what you do?
Yes, it seems like everyone claims to do asset management or workflows. And it confuses the hell out of buyers. So we need to take a step back and think about what we actually mean. So let’s break it down.
First: assets. What are your assets? Well, that depends on who you are. If you are a playout company, then you know programmes and commercials come in, are played out, then can be deleted from the server. That is a pretty simple asset management application.
But I would urge you to think a bit more carefully about that word asset. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a thing or person of use or value”. So what your asset management system should be doing is getting the most of that value.
So asset management is about monetisation?
Certainly you cannot maximise your revenue opportunities without good asset management. But that does not mean that earning revenue is the only reason for managing your assets.
It can simplify your workflows. It can enable you to make the best use of your archive – finding new library clips for news and review shows rather than the same old familiar shots, for instance. It can build a bond with your audience, by putting some content online. You may have a social responsibility to enable public access to your archive.
But an asset management system is just a server and a database. How complicated can it be? Why do I need to talk to a specialist?
If you tell me Google is just a table of contents, I will agree that asset management is just a server and a database. But we both know that it is very much more than that – or at least it should be if it is going to be of any use.
First, there is a lot of data to be managed. Some will be entered by archivists, some will be generated by machine, so you have to be able to interface with other systems, like file-based quality control processes, scheduling and automation, and business systems.
Second, it needs to support workflows. You cannot have people typing in commands to move content around a network or pass it through processes. The system has to be as automated as possible, with the asset management system tracking what needs to be done and recording that it has happened successfully. And those workflows and processes have to be designed quickly, simply and reliably, without calling in an expert and paying a fortune in consultancy.
Third, the data has to be managed. If you are publishing to multiple platforms – which is a good way of maximising the use of your assets – then you need to deliver specific metadata in specific locations for the file to work. Again, this has to be managed automatically.
Fourth, you need to be able to access certain parts of the data from different devices. Sometimes web services will suffice, if you need to log in from home, for instance. But you can get real productivity benefits if you push people to respond immediately. Rather than wait for a producer to get back to the desk to watch and approve a new trailer, sent it to her or his iPad wherever they are in the building for an immediate response. We do that with a module called i-mediaflex Mobile.
Finally – and this is a point that is often overlooked – not all of your content will be on a server. What about material that has already been archived? What about library material that has not yet been ingested? What about things that cannot be recorded on a video server. Not just subtitle files, but things like poster artwork and scripts?
Can you include physical assets as well as digital assets in the same system?
It makes a huge amount of sense if you do. Then you have all your assets in one place, and you know when you search that you will find everything you have.
So while at TMD we have a good reputation with big global broadcasters like Discovery Communications and RT, we also have been responsible for major audiovisual archives, like the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The NFSA has a huge amount of material online, but an even vaster collection which is not yet, from historical film awaiting restoration to assets which cannot be digitised, like the dress from Muriel’s Wedding.
Seems like you need a pretty flexible data model. How do you know what you need?
Yes, the first point is that there is a need for a powerful data schema, which captures all the information you need. There have been attempts at standardising this, like the BBC SMEF (standard metadata exchange framework) and the Dublin Core. A good asset management system – like the TMD Mediaflex – will support these.
They will also support much more. The NFSA, for instance, added hundreds of fields to their metadata schema to incorporate what they needed. I repeat, the core system has to be flexible, allowing you to build the system you want, not tell you what to do.
How do you connect to external systems?
This is a critical part of a modern, useful asset management system: it might be at the centre of the workflows but it has to talk to systems around it.
One way we do this is with what we called the Unified Media Services toolkit. UMS is an API, based on web services, which allows external devices to connect to a single workflow bus in a service oriented architecture. That adaptor might be based on their own proprietary architecture or it might be an open, FIMS-style adaptor. Either way, it makes for a simple, seamless interface. Should the third-party device get an update, it is only the adaptor that needs to be changed to allow it to continue working, so no expensive re-integration.
To give an example, we have in the Mediaflex modular architecture an option called Repurposing which, as its name suggests, allows content in the system to be delivered in other formats to other systems. As part of it you can add StreamCoder, which is a transcoding engine for the web, IPTV, VoD and mobile delivery, and which can perform multiple transcodes simultaneously.
Alongside that, you might have another repurposing system, like the Telestream Vantage or the Snell Alchemist. These can be connected into Mediaflex, for completely automatic, seamless workflows, using UMS.
Sounds like all the technology bases are covered.
Yes, they are, but we need to think in a new way if content owners are going to maximise the value of their assets. Broadcasting traditionally has been driven by technology, but I believe today we need to focus on business processes, using the technology as an enabler.
So just as important as connecting to other video processing systems is connecting to business management software. Yes, we can develop new workflows and deliver content to new customers on alternative platforms. But how much does it cost to do it? Is it creating bottlenecks in our processing chain, and are they threatening existing workflows? If we need to invest in additional equipment to meet new markets, will this produce a return on investment?
In short, we need to drive content flows from business requirements, and we need to know how much each workflow costs. At TMD we talk about “beyond media asset management”, and that is how we should be thinking today: we have to take a business approach to using and delivering our content.
What are the top tips for choosing an asset management system?
In no particular order, I would suggest that you have to be certain you are covered on at least five points:
• it must have a flexible data model, which can incorporate and translate all the metadata you need, now and in the future
• there should be easy connectivity to other devices, using a service-oriented model to minimise the need for re-engineering as other parts of the infrastructure are upgraded or replaced
• you need strong integration with business systems so your activities are driven by commercial imperatives, and the content processing generates management reports not just technical error lists
• workflows need to be added quickly and reliably, without the need for heavy engineering, using a graphical design tool underpinned by the intelligence to fill in the technical requirements
• new delivery platforms have to be supported, including things like Silverlight and Smooth Streaming, HTML-5 and HLS, with metadata management to ensure the right information goes to the right place every time.
A good place to ask these questions would be the TMD stand at IBC, 2.C58!