Getting your assets in gear

Shelve data broadcasting. Forget HDTV. The hottest ticket for broadcast suppliers is asset management. In addition to software companies that are asset-management specialists, storage, server and automation vendors are lining up to offer customers new ways to store, access, repurpose and distribute their content.

The emphasis here is on "managing" and not merely assembling software and hardware tools. It is far more than just the transition from analog to digital media. Work-flow analysis, the identification of embedded "cultural" traits within the organization, and process re-engineering are all key components in the asset-management strategy.

Asset management is already a big business. Charles Caldwell, vice president at Rye, N.H.-based GISTICS, projects sales for next year for the total media-asset-management market will rise to $3.2 billion from $507 million in 1997. The hardware side will account for $1.7 billion-up from $175 million in 1995-while software sales will total $1.29 billion-with services reaching $242 million.

"Asset management provides two different value propositions," says Jeremy Schwartz, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Boston. "For anyone who has digital assets, it offers a cost-saving effect in the form of streamlined production processes. It also allows shared access, both internally and externally, via an extranet with outside partners on a project-by-project basis, for such things as more efficient version control as well as low-resolution previewing. Metadata is the key that underlies, and enables, all of this."

Not-so-new technology

Asset management is not a new phenomenon in the television industry. Most broadcasters and large cable programmers practice some level of asset management.

"The questions posed to us are now based on some degree of experience. Media companies are not trying this for the first time. Rather, many have text-archive management systems of one kind or another, and these are often linked to digital-tape libraries," says Philip Page, executive director of the media and Web-publishing group at Oakland, Calif.-based Informix/Media360, an asset-management software powerhouse.

Page identified three major asset-management-related objectives that permeate discussions both in North America and Europe. Having access to variable metadata is the top priority. Another goal is achieving what Page describes as "super-connectivity": the establishment of a direct link between digital archives, newsrooms, NLE (nonlinear editing) suites and Web sites. Specifying the entire chain of events in the realm of rights management, asset security and revenues-the triggering of a stream of verifiable transactions either on a nonroyalty basis or resulting in fixed royalties with or without embedded licenses-is the third priority.

"This is one of the most confusing subjects. It is closely tied to a broader discussion of metadata, due to the ability of content producers to embed their rights and royalties information within the digital-content package itself," says Page.

User-friendly systems

"The focus on providing good asset-management systems should take into consideration the requirements of the broadcaster, not what some IT specialist thinks is important," said Andrew Ioannou, president of UK-based Omnibus Systems' U.S. subsidiary in Nevada City, Calif. "People are the most important asset to any broadcaster, because they are the ultimate creators of the product. The solutions we provide should give people the tools they want and not what we think they want."

Asset management is vast in scope, ranging from compressed digital (MPEG/DVB) transport and multichannel broadcasting with enhanced and interactive components to unicast and multicast Web content streaming over broadband networks. Each application represents something entirely different at the point of origin as the digital content shifts from sector to sector, encompassing a vast terrain of broadcasters, satellite and cable operators, and content-production powerhouses like Hollywood studios.

"Customers want out-of-the-box functionality, natural-language search, annotation and collaboration capabilities along with the ability to manage multiple media types in their native form," says Cynthia Francis, vice president of marketing and business development at Vienna, Va.-based eMotion Inc.

The company's MediaPartner 4.0 software represents a full end-to-end solution, putting eMotion in direct competition with Bulldog and Maryland-based Artesia Technologies. Partnering with EMC Corp. and Sun Microsystems while embracing Avid Technologies Inc.'s Open Media Management (OMM) platform is one way to add to eMotion's momentum, says Francis.

"Will there be a product offering with a work-flow component baked into it? That leads back to my point about out-of-the-box functionality, which is something we emphasize," Francis says.

Managing across all media

According to David Vap, Artesia's director of product marketing, asset management is not just about managing Web content. Nor is it limited to video logging, which entails breaking up the video content into key frames and extracting out the metadata.

"Artesia's TEAMS 4.0 software, which has already been embraced by customers ranging from giant General Motors to start-up, is not a parking lot where digital assets go to die," says Vap. "It is an enterprise-wide solution, which can be adapted to any size installation, with instant fulfillment as one objective. We can handle asset types from text to MPEG-2, and distribute those assets to every conceivable client and delivery channel."

TEAMS 4.0 supports Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), which introduces the concept of the Play Decision List (PDL) to contribute to a more efficient and streamlined production process.

"Enabling users to edit over the Web on low-resolution proxies is taken to the next level with the SMIL-based PDL, because you can create totally new assets, while aligning low-resolution and high-resolution versions," says Vap. "This is based on recognizing and overlaying the same time codes."

Media capture and indexing is the specialty of Vienna, Va.-based Excalibur Technologies, which will soon unite with Intel's Interactive Media Services group to form a new company known as Convera. Excalibur is already pushing the asset-management envelope with its Screening Room 2.2 digital-archiving engine priced in the $75,000 to $80,000 range. ABC O & O's KABC-TV Los Angeles and KGO-TV San Francisco are both Screening Room customers.

Excalibur is also introducing a new XML-based video logger known as Screening Room Capture, which will simultaneously perform platform encoding for both Windows Media and Real Networks players.

"The ability to publish metadata as HTML and XML is seen by us as a significant leap forward," said Dan Agan, Excalibur's vice president of marketing. "Simultaneous read/write is allowing content editors and creators to write directly to the database in real time as well. Discovery, for example, wanted that type of access as material was backhauled, via satellite, both during their recent ECO Challenge and for their upcoming special coverage of the manned mission on the International Space Station."

Excalibur's RetrievalWare, a text-driven search engine, is another core offering.

"Our goal is to ensure that any metadata present can be extracted, and that the asset is searchable and leverageable," says Agan. "The publishing side is where a lot of energy needs to be focused. Creating demand for the consumption of video in the lean-forward environment means solving the bandwidth issue. The quality is there for certain applications, but not others.

"And codecs [encoder/decoders] are not the culprits here on the ingest side. Now that we have seen demonstrations of video direct to IP, we are quite confident that codecs will surface that will handle any bandwidth flow."

Of course, before someone leaps into Web-based syndication, there is the more fundamental issue of figuring out who holds valid asset-management credentials.

"At the major trade shows like NAB and IBC this year, you encountered some form of asset management in every stall. But only a fraction of the companies trying to promote these so-called asset-management solutions really understand what asset management is all about. And fewer still appear to be seeking integrated partnerships," says Mark Jones, director of the Jupiter Project at BBC News in London.

Content without boundaries

Formidable asset-management players with very deep pockets abound. The list includes IBM, Sony and Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp., which acquired Denver-based Avalon this summer.

"We are offering a comprehensive infrastructure, where we facilitate the high-end storage, management and delivery of rich media for our customers," said Doron Kempel, general manager of EMC's media solutions group. "With Avalon, we allow for flexible policies concerning the movement of content across platforms. Rich media requires intelligent content-propagation technology. We are leveraging Avalon, taking their technology to completely different applications and feature sets, from the LAN to the WAN." EMC is taking what Kempel describes as a "holistic" approach.

"Media streaming is removing the license and country boundaries, and puts an emphasis on really knowing your content," Kempel says. "There is no opportunity here for some sort of point-in-time snapshot. All the core components are going to grow, so the key is to provide a supporting infrastructure, which grows and scales accordingly. Being culturally sympathetic as you set out to liberate operations in this regard is important, too."

This year, EMC joined with Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Digital Island and iXL to launch the "Create Once, Publish Everywhere," or COPE, intitiative. The aim is to establish an integration model, not just for asset management but for dynamic media creation, publishing, distribution and presentation.

IBM's expertise in digital-library creation and hierarchical-storage management is added to Sony's PetaSite robotic data-tape solution at CNN, for example, where a $20 million digital-archive system is taking shape. Virage is also part of CNN's system.

IBM's Content Manager, a rich-media database that is a much enhanced follow-up to IBM's earlier DB2 Digital Library platform, is one example of the company's vast array of software-driven content-management and content-distribution solutions for broadcasters, says Dave Trumbo, solutions manager for content management at IBM's Global Media & Entertainment Industry group in Santa Monica, Calif.

IBM's hardware solutions for asset management include IntelliStations-high-performance NT workstations for video editing and digital creation tools; highly reliable UNIX servers; and a full spectrum of data-storage products for storage area networks (SANs), online disk storage and near-line automated tape libraries. IBM Linear Tape-Open (LTO) products include automated tape libraries that handle up to 200 GB of compressed data per cartridge at data-transfer rates of up to 30 MB/s.

"The LTO technology is an open industry standard with multiple vendors supporting the technology, [thus] offering protection for broadcasters' investments," says Trumbo. "There is also a clearly defined growth roadmap for the technology, increasing tape capacity by eight times over the next four years."

Roadmap for digital

The IBM Content Manager-based video-asset-management system integrates with partners AdWare, Avid, Grass Valley Group, MediaSite, Sony and Virage. Significant enhancements targeted for broadcasters are currently under development, according to Trumbo, who adds that IBM is positioned to offer specific implementation support and to assist in the development of a roadmap for a customer's digital transformation.

Conrad Coffield, vice president of sales at Sony Electronics Broadcast and Professional Co., says that, when it comes to selling an asset-management system, to coin a phrase, "it takes a village." And it all starts with a consulting engagement. Sony employs what Coffield calls a "use case" methodology.

"You have to identify how work flow will be affected by the asset-management implementation. That will drive which software applications and hardware configurations will be used. You do not simply put metadata in," Coffield says. "All the processes involved should be systematically analyzed and planned. It took six months alone just to identify the 300 to 400 use cases at CNN, which in turn generated over 2,500 specific requirements translated back to individual pieces of software and hardware."

Sony's GY-8240 DTF-2 tape drive represents the next generation of high-speed, large-capacity drives with 200 GB of storage per cassette and sustained-transfer rates of 24 MB/s.

"DTF has a forward-migration plan that takes it up to 800 GB per cassette and a sustained transfer rate of 96 GB/s with backward compatibility to DTF-1," Coffield says. In the realm of film-to-data capture and compositing, Sony has partnered with Discreet by allowing 4:4:4 real-time capture and transfer on its VIALTA telecine system using Discreet's Backdraft solution to manage and track film transfer in the background. Outputting on a one-film-pass basis from the VIALTA to RGB data, HDTV and SDTV is now possible.

Finished material can be recorded on a Sony DTF-1 or DTF-2 data recorder. And automated EDL capture and assembly via Backdraft allows operators of Discreet Inferno, Flame, Flint, Fire and Smoke to avoid the cross-platform interchange-related time delays.

Nevada City, Calif.-based GVG is attacking asset management from several directions. Its innovative XML-based ContentShare software, for example, is an attempt to address what GVG sees as a huge gap: the lack of standardized data-exchange interfaces. ContentShare is not only resident in GVG's new line of Profile XP media platforms but has also been adopted by more than a dozen other companies.

"What we are telling the application developers is that we have now made software available that lets the tools work together and eliminates the need for customized software," says Steven Bilow, GVG's product marketing manager for media-software products. "End users can now choose whatever tools they want. This allows for asset management across different devices. At the same time, it addresses the issue of legacy applications by giving developers the option of writing a small piece of software in the form of a broker, rather than creating a whole new driver or scrapping the device in question, which is a costly and avoidable option."

GVG is also facilitating Webcasting and Web-distribution activities with its drag-and-drop-driven WebAble product, another ContentShare-based application. WebAble comprises software modules that enable users to browse MPEG-1 versions of Profile Media, and then send them out over the Internet in the Windows Media or Real Video formats. A future QuickTime version is planned as well.

SGI is focused on convergence via its "Media Commerce" solutions, including a 64-bit MIPS mid-range video server. The SGI Media Server for production and broadcast is priced from $100,000 to $150,000 and can store up to 176 hours of DVCPRO-25. A more scaled-back version starts at $60,000.

The SGI Media Server for production is an out-of-the-box solution with a real-time FTP file system for inter-facility as well as intra-facility file transfers via SMPTE 305M SDTI for 4X RT transfer. The SGI Media Server for broadband with Kasenna MediaBase software is a multiple-bit-rate streaming-media platform.

"Two years ago, the theme was all about keeping everything behind the firewall on the intranet," says Greg Estes, vice president and general manager of SGI's telecommunications and media group. "Now, the doors have opened and customers are looking for the easiest way to take content and manage it and repurpose it inside and outside their facilities."

Montreal-based Keops Broadcast's MediaWorks application is built on SGI's StudioCentral Library and brings frame-accurate video browsing with an added emphasis on single-version video-clip management. It runs on SGI's MediaServer as well as GVG's Profile. MediaWorks supports GIF, JPEG, MPEG and QuickTime formats, allowing users to immediately store, find, share and play digital assets.

Dominique Ste-Marie, president and CEO of Keops Broadcast, believes that control of both high-resolution and low-resolution copies in a synchronous stream offers more than merely a time-saving advantage in the larger sphere of asset management.

"It reduces the bandwidth and storage requirement substantially," Ste-Marie says. "Controlling the high-resolution world at the point of ingestion is what I consider to be our key differentiation."

Keops Broadcast is supporting multiple NLE formats with MediaWorks as well as EDL support for Avid/ALE, CMX 3600 and Discreet's Backdraft extensions.

Integrators get involved

System integrators have watched the growing influence of asset management with great interest, knowing from the outset that the challenges posed would be substantial.

"There is a recognition that no one single, monolithic, overall, asset-management infrastructure exists, but rather a number of disparate media-management elements, each of which performs an important but particular function and does it very well," says David George, a director and senior consultant with New Jersey-based AZCAR Technologies (IMMAD ECVS). "Bringing these together under some common technology umbrella presents both new problems and new opportunities for the system integrators."

This involves much more than the traditional organization of a number of hardware elements into a working whole, according to George. Critical new skill sets are required to address new problems such as file manipulation and control, data storage and retrieval, video/data compression and processing, and metadata strategies and application.

"The need to develop new and innovative software solutions from scratch in particular is not an arena in which traditional system integrators have been strong," says George. "The introduction of this additional data-intensive dimension into the overall facility design accelerates the transition that all integrators must make from a video to a data world in which IT skills and resources become as valuable as television experience once was."

Automation vendors such as Colorado-based ENCODA Systems Inc., Omnibus Systems and FloriCal are looking to capitalize on the intrinsic ties between asset-management solutions or platforms and incumbent automation systems.

"We are looking at a business model in Europe where the mechanics of playout are now being successfully subcontracted out, including ingest and transmission," says Barry Goldsmith, CEO of ENCODA. For example, Encoda operates a broadcast facility in London for Scandinavian DTH satellite operator Viasat.

"You have more multichannel operators in play in Europe, too, so the whole model is different, including the emphasis on centralized playout," says Goldsmith. "For example, the film library at BSkyB in the UK is linked via ATM to the uplink site, which is 30 to 40 miles away. There, 70 to 80 movie channels are transmitted using GVG servers on a Fibre Channel infrastructure."

According to Jim Moneyhun, president of Florida-based FloriCal Systems Inc., automation vendors are responsive to customers searching for asset-management solutions, because the trend toward shared resources in multichannel environments is a natural extension of automation.

Moneyhun cites examples such as wwor-tv in New York and wutb(tv) in Baltimore, two stations operated from a single site in New Jersey, along with wfla-tv in Tampa, a new facility where newspaper and television news departments share space. At wfla-tv, four video servers and a StorageTek digital robot hold the station's assets, managed by FloriCal's acquisition, storage-management and on-air presentation solutions.

"With TV networks like Groupe TVA Montreal, for example, we are handling multiple-network programming from one central EMC Celerra server out to affiliates and to five regional server-equipped stations all across Canada," Moneyhun says. "In Australia, Europe and Canada, we routinely encounter a degree of regionalization and centralization that you do not see here in the U.S. yet."