Tapeless Workflows, MAM and Archive: Back to Basics

Michael Shore

Author: Michael Shore

Published: 01 August 2015

by Mike Shore Issue 103 - July 2015

The broadcast industrys appetite for file-based workflows existed long before the technology required to implement them was available. With the emergence of cheap capture hardware, the continually decreasing cost of storage and the ever-increasing capabilities of inexpensive computing power, the transition from tape-based to tapeless workflows has finally become a reality. The primary impetus for this shift comes from a long proven economic motivator: its cheaper.
Organizations that have implemented tapeless workflows no longer need to maintain expensive VTRs or buy expensive tape stock. Instead, companies can use the immediacy and random access capabilities of file-based acquisition to create and manage more content, more quickly and to more destinations, with fewer and less technical staff.
Although the incentives are great and the transition is and always was inevitable, there still are some barriers that have yet to be clearly resolved. For example, in tape-based environments, there was a clean hand-off of content and responsibilities between the department handling acquisition, often a studio or a truck, and post-production. A tape operator recorded content on a videotape and physically handed that content to post. At this hand-off point, the lines of responsibility were clear¦my job is done and yours can now begin.
Once tapeless workflows came into the mix, however, this clean hand-off between acquisition and post no longer existed. The person recording the content had to understand what was being done in post and post needed to understand how things were being recorded in the field. In other words, these two groups needed to surmount the biggest challenge of them all communication. Enter the modern MAM system.

The first asset management system was a yellow legal pad. This was followed quickly by an Excel spreadsheet. Then, Google turned it into a shared document. Regardless of the format, all of these methods were subject to one inherent flaw¦human error. Even if the person managing this effort never made a mistake, the sheer amount of content gathered soon became unmanageable for a single person. Nowadays, even small productions capture more and more source content, and generate more and more deliverables to multiple destinations.
The primary function of a MAM system is to allow production personnel to collaborate. As a producer, if I see something that is a great shot, I should be able to communicate that to an edit room that may be located on the other side of the world. This is the most important function of a MAM system¦communication.
Processing power, storage capacity and bandwidth advances have all played critical roles in making file-based workflows a reality. As far as storage goes, it always seems as if more is not enough. A MAM system should help you use storage effectively. If a user needs to edit content, then the storage medium needs to allow for high-performance access. If the user just needs content to be instantly retrievable, then less-expensive storage is more appropriate.

While storage costs are always shrinking and capacities are always growing, expensive storage is still¦expensive. The real solution is to use the right tool for the job. For example, a content-intensive reality show might use some amount of online storage to service multiple edit rooms, but quite likely will also have several times that amount of nearline storage, which can be accessed instantly, but is not designed to service multiple edit rooms simultaneously. Content that is deemed necessary for edit can intelligently be migrated to the expensive storage only for as long as needed and then safely purged when no longer required.
There is one thing that too often seems to get forgotten in the rush away from videotape archive. In the old days, productions were captured on videotape. This served as a ready-made archive format. Videotape was a tangible medium that could be placed on a shelf and likely forgotten without much concern. Spinning disks are a wonderful transport mechanism, but one day that hard drive on your shelf will no longer spin up when you plug it in. Whether you choose cloud-based archive, assuming you have the necessary bandwidth to store and retrieve your content in a timely manner, or a non-volatile option like LTO, the point here is archive! MAM systems make this easy.


Perhaps the biggest challenge for MAM vendors is to build an infrastructure that isnt dependent on any one thing. It is impossible to know what the next big thing will be. Instead, MAM software should provide an interface for content creators to take advantage of whatever the next big thing turns out to be.
At Pronology, we took a very purposeful approach to build a solution that is format, hardware and resolution agnostic. We understand that we cannot predict what technological marvel is around the corner, but the basic need for humans to communicate will not change, and therefore we are focused on ensuring that our system manages and organizes all of the content required for todays production needs.

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