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Share the Wealth

This month, public TV and radio stations will launch a new metadata dictionary, making it easier for them to share, find and broadcast content. Metadata, a digital version of the barcode, can be attached to a video file and accessed at the click of a mouse button.

Today, as broadcasters move away from satellites and sneakernet, preferring Ethernet to distribute video files, they face new challenges. One of the biggest: How do you identify a video or audio clip once it becomes one of hundreds of files on a server? The answer is metadata, better known to public broadcasters as the PBCore project. And WGBH Boston is leading the charge.

It is developing a set of metadata guidelines with input from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), PBS, NPR and Kentucky Educational Television. This critical step will bring consistency to Corporation for Public Broadcasting members. "The idea is to build support from national organizations to receive data and also have them push it back out," says Marcia Brooks, PBCore project leader.

The first step in the project took more than two years to complete and has resulted in 48 elements that describe content. (Traditionally, stickers with barcodes have been used to identify what is on videotape.) Thirteen elements describe the actual content (title, author, description, audience rating), seven are related to intellectual property (rights issues), and 28 identify the nature of the media asset as it exists (file size, format, tracks, aspect ratio).

The idea is that all descriptors would be sent with the content, no matter where it travels, whether it is from a producer to a station, a producer to a producer," explains Brooks.

That leaves the project with its next big challenge: finding support among member stations. Alan Baker, broadcast systems analyst for Minnesota Public Radio and its national production and distribution arm, American Public Media, managed the test implementation phase of the project and helped set up the dictionary. One of the concerns he points to in the deployment phase: Only stations that are already familiar with metadata will initially take advantage of the dictionary.

"Right now, there is only a vague understanding of what it means to apply metadata. Stations are looking for guidance," he says.

Even those who understand and apply metadata may have disparate workflow methods and systems. "There will be some real culture changes for stations, so we have to figure out how to implement, develop and raise awareness," says Brooks.

One option is to devise a tool that would be downloaded into the station's server system, allowing users to ensure that metadata fields are PBCore compliant. Unfortunately, since stations operations differ, it's still in the idea phase. "We're looking to get people to use the same terminology and agree on how to label certain things," she says.

MPR is already using metadata after it moved to a digital archive system. The station also created a metadata dictionary that Baker says is fairly close to the PBCore model. The real benefit of PBCore will appear when NPR completes its Content Depot project, which allows for exporting and sending content as a file to NPR for national distribution. Many NPR stations currently use satellites for sending and receiving content.

Brooks and Baker believe the hard work may still be ahead, since metadata discussions are fairly esoteric. "People don't think about how their freezer works; they just want to make sure it keeps their ice cream cold," says Brooks. Everyone doesn't need to understand the process, she adds, as long as it makes content more accessible, retrievable and easier to repurpose.