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Share the Wealth

Time is money—especially at Hollywood studios. To speed TV production and approval time of syndicated programs, Sony Pictures Entertainment has quietly rolled out a digital-asset-management (DAM) system that can be accessed by users from around the globe. The days of using FedEx to send out tapes for approval are over.

"Network bandwidth and storage is now cheap enough to have a positive return-on-investment in one to two years," says Jerry Ledbetter, Sony Pictures vice president, digital media initiative.

What Sony calls cineShare is a secure service built on WebWare ActiveMedia, a file-sharing system from content-management company INSCI. With it, Sony shaves days off a typical program-production schedule and makes it easier to shoot programs off the lot. One of the inherent challenges of remote production is getting executives to approve shots. Typically, studios have sent dailies back and forth via FedEx.

But all that has changed.

Now a low-resolution MPEG-2 copy of the dailies is encoded and placed on a server protected by a firewall. Ledbetter says that approved personnel sign in to the server, launch a Windows Media 9 player, and stream the dailies at sufficient quality to be able to approve and give feedback. They can access it via the Internet from their office or even from the road.

One of the better features of Sony's system is that it allows Ledbetter to create new products for new problems. He says it takes about four months to create a new application. CineShare, for example, cost only $200,000 to build and will pay for itself in less than two years.

Another way Sony is keeping costs in check is by outsourcing some of the technical needs to enterprise asset-management-system provider INSCI. John Fox, CTO of INSCI's WebWare Products Group, says his company is helping distributors of syndicated Sony content approve upcoming programs via the Web. Sony places a digital copy of a program on its server, and TV stations access a Web page to stream the file and screen it to make sure language and content are appropriate for broadcast.

"It eliminates faxing of approval sheets and sending of tapes via FedEx," Fox says, "so it radically cuts down the approval time."

Other features of the WebWare system include search and browse, tracking an asset and its different versions, and full-text search. Sony is also using the system as a stock-footage service, providing more than 20,000 clips online.

"It's all done in Windows Media 9. While it isn't the same quality as the full MPEG-2 master," says Fox, "it's good enough for them to make decisions on content."

The service has gained traction quickly, growing from 30 to 900 users in two months.

For large and small media companies, DAM can be daunting. But the way Sony has approached it, focusing on using asset management to solve specific problems, may be the way forward. Economies of scale may tempt an organization to plunge into a company-wide system, but Ledbetter believes those cost savings shouldn't be the primary driver in installing a system. "We don't care about building an enterprise-wide management system," he says. "We do care about creating a solution for problems in the group."