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Sun Rises at WGBH-TV Boston

WGBH-TV Boston's approach to asset management, launched last week with the help of Sun Microsystems, is based on the integration of the station's wide variety of existing systems.

WGBH-TV's iForce Solution Center, the result of collaboration by the station and the server manufacturer, is designed to make it easier to search, retrieve and share assets across a variety of platforms. In WGBH-TV's case, that means making it possible for a Harris automation system, Apple Final Cut Pro nonlinear editing system, Grass Valley playout servers, Sony Petasite, and Sun servers to better meet asset-management needs. The servers deployed: a SunFire 280R with 8 GB memory capacity, SunFire V480 with 32 GB and Sun's LX-50 with 512 MB. The overall system design is expected to allow it to catalog more than 50 years of content.

The iForce Solution Center uses Sun's Digital Asset Management Reference Architecture, which the server manufacturer developed with WGBH-TV, with assistance from Artesia Technologies and Sony Electronics Inc., a leader in broadcast-media technologies.

According to Dave MacCarn, the station's chief technologist and asset-management architect, it took many years for WGBH-TV to work out how the focus for station's asset-management station. One of the most important issues to resolve, he explains, is who's going to use the system. "Is it a producer or a school student or teacher. How might they use the information?"

The iForce system begins with a Virage VideoLogger, which handles ingest and logging of metadata information into the Artesia system. Artesia helps track multiple versions of content on the Sun servers, which have a built-in hierarchical storage-management system. The servers are tied in with a Sony Petasite tape library and Thomson Grass Valley Profile servers. Telestream's FlipFactory is also used to help convert content from one file format to another. And all of those systems operate under the control of the Harris automation system.

"Historically," MacCarn explains, "we would look something up and see a textual description and then have to plop a tape into a recorder and scan through it." The new system makes it much easier for producers, say, of Frontline to find historical footage from its repository, which consists of the Petasite and the Sun servers.

MacCarn expects the system to speed retrieval of content. Before asset management, he notes, in order to find material for Frontline
programs about 9/11, archivists spent more than 625 hours in pulling more than 1,500 pieces of content from various locations.

One of the goals in developing the system was to use existing standards, like the Dublin Core and Score IMS metadata standards.

According to Pallavi Shah, Sun Microsystems senior market segment manager, knowledge management and collaboration, Sun sought to use the standards to create an architecture defining the hardware and software required for an end-to-end asset-management system. That architecture consists of three "guides." The first defines how the workflow is managed, from ingest to distribution, laying out the required standard protocols. The second is an implementation guide, offering details on how the hardware and software should be used and connected. The third is a sizing guide, defining how the system scales.

"A system like this is about people, processes and technology," she says. "The real challenges are people and processes, not technology."

When WGBH-TV was evaluating how it would approach the challenge of asset management, MacCarn says, an important priority was to build a system that integrated components already at the station. That way, staffers would feel comfortable with it because they would already be familiar with how it works.

"Our goal is to realize the maximum value of the content we create or acquire," he adds. "It's about the reuse or multi-versioning of material. When we can select a single frame or scan through stills, cropping out pieces the user needs, then we find new efficiencies."

MacCarn's advice to others interested in asset management: Do research but make use of equipment that is in hand while looking to future needs.

"We're excited that all the companies have signed on and said, 'We're gonna make sure this works.' And we now have a proven solution and assurance that it will stay robust."

Shah says the iForce center is designed to be a showcase that will give potential customers a chance to learn more about asset management.

"They can test-drive the system and pick their options based on their existing investments," she says. "We'll then put together the system in our labs that customers can see and test before they buy. Sun redefined the game by raising the bar for customer expectations, and our competitors have to now play catch up."