Asset management from the inside out

C-SPAN, the Washington-based cable channel that covers Congress, is currently reviewing proposals submitted in response to its asset-management RFP. The goal is to initiate a phased-in implementation of an asset-management solution, commencing in mid-2001. Chris Long, C-SPAN's director of new media, has the responsibility of developing Web-site operations as well as supervising the network's asset-management system.

"We are anxious to move ahead," says Long. "We want a unified system where the concept of work-flow management and resource commitment all start at the assignment desk. By pursuing what we see as ingest archiving, we will be able to generate information about our programming every step of the way."

C-SPAN currently uses a Nesbit scheduling tool, which generates a log for on-air programming.

"The big limitation for our organization is that while it [asset management technology] can be used by our programming operations personnel, it does not extend out to the headend of this operation where the actual assigning occurs," says Long.

A broader digital transition is under way, although C-SPAN remains largely dependent upon Panasonic MII analog videotape with a bit of digital thrown in as well. C-SPAN has its single digital control room up-and-running using Grass Valley Group video servers and a GVG switcher. Network executives are still evaluating automation alternatives and near-line storage.

"Our approach to a content [asset] management system has been inside out," says Long. "We are attempting to build a system that reflects and supports C-SPAN's current television operations, while incorporating forward-looking features such as automation and publishing the schedule directly to the Web," says Rob Kennedy, C-SPAN's executive vice president.

Long is quite enthusiastic whenever is the topic of discussion. Developed as an informal pilot project with Virage, this section of the Campaign 2000 site features searchable video, among other things.

"We just broke out one piece," says Long. "Our plan is to extend the same computerization and new-media technologies and apply them generally. The external advantages are one thing. But this offers enormous internal benefits as a production tool that generates the most current programming information internally across the entire organization."

While a copy is posted on C-SPAN's Web site, the outbound video or a subset of the content for syndication flows in the form of FTP (file transfer protocol) files destined for the Virage Interactive Services site on the West Coast. From there, Virage does the rest, and that involves everything from logging and processing to indexing and hosting.

"This is quite a bit more than a searchable version of our network coverage, and one which is syndicated to 44 third-party Web sites including
The New York Times

USA Today

. This is the pathway to personalization and notification services," says Long, who adds that this project serves as a comprehensive blueprint for what C-SPAN hopes to put in place beginning next year.

Besides searchability, there is the more fundamental decision of what constitutes appropriate outsourcing, especially in light of what Virage has provided on an almost turnkey basis already. "In-house versus out-of-house processing and hosting, that is the big question as we develop a larger solution," according to Long.

Among other things, C-SPAN's unique mix of programming and its uninterrupted congressional coverage present special challenges.

"We have quite a dynamic programming environment with a very volatile schedule. Our gavel-to-gavel Senate and House floor coverage is perhaps the most widely recognized aspect of our coverage," says Long.

"Our asset-management project, along with the digitization of our operations and our program archive, will increase the value of our public affairs content by providing new types of access," Kennedy says. "For example, we will be able to provide personalized schedule notifications. Or, a customized Web page containing content of interest to an individual user."