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Media companies manage their assets

By Judith Lamont, KMWorld senior writer

For nearly a decade, WGBH, the Boston affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)), had been monitoring the increasing use of digital media in the broadcasting industry. WGBH produces about a third of PBS' prime-time lineup and companion online content. Anticipating the need to manage digital assets as part of its operations, as well as their potential value to the organization, WGBH began to prepare for both the organizational and technical aspects of such a change.

One of the station's goals was to develop a single digital asset management (DAM) repository that would serve the entire enterprise. By coordinating across different departments, WGBH hoped to consolidate its media assets and reduce duplication of effort. However, a strongly entrepreneurial culture and an emphasis on creativity mandated a degree of autonomy for each group.

"We did a lot of functional analysis based on interviews with user groups," says Dave MacCarn, chief technologist and asset management architect at WGBH. "We began to look at the information we needed to store for our digital media," he says, "and explore whether we could get everyone to agree on a common set of metadata."

By the late 1990s, the IT department began to look at specific software tools that might meet the organization's needs. The department tested many software packages and launched a number of pilot initiatives. About three years ago, WGBH formalized its initiative to create a digital library, and selected TEAMS from Artesia, which offered the best combination of features for the station's needs.

WGBH can now digitize and store newly created video in the Artesia TEAMS system, and content can be readily searched, retrieved and disseminated. That will provide a much quicker turnaround for identifying video segments that are needed for productions. WGBH is not attempting to digitize the 300,000 hours of material in its archive, because of the high cost, but is digitizing segments as they are needed for current projects. The system also allows the station to track its analog assets such as tapes and photos—a need that is similar to a corporation's need for records management of paper documents along with its electronic documents.

External impact

In addition to aiding production within WGBH, the availability of a searchable digital repository is dramatically improving the efficiency of distribution to outside organizations. Film footage, images and text developed by WGBH are available for licensing and can be used in documentaries, exhibits, ads and publications. The digital library can be searched by publishers and producers for content ranging from nature shots to Julia Child's cooking shows.

WGBH took a broad view of its DAM initiative, so the impact of its exploration will extend beyond the organization. "When we designed the infrastructure," says MacCarn, "we wanted to create one that could be used by other rich media organizations. A flexible architecture would provide a system that was more valuable to our partners because it would accommodate the elements they had in place." Last fall, WGBH teamed with Sun Microsystems to open a Sun iForce Solution Center where other companies could experiment with a DAM system. WGBH is also leading an effort to develop a standard set of metadata for media that can be used across the public broadcasting system .

Ensuring adoption

Overall, the system has been well-received by users, although "change management has been a huge issue," says Amy Rantanen, director of IT and asset management systems at WGBH. Some people realized that their processes were too manual, she observes, and were eager to make use of a DAM system, or were receptive because they could see the potential revenue stream associated with digital distribution. Nevertheless, some users and executives were concerned that the upfront work required for tagging, controlled vocabularies and other administrative requirements would interfere with creativity. "It's an educational process," adds Rantanen, "encouraging people to adopt the new system because in the long run it will be beneficial and easier to use."

HBO's application

Artesia helps companies manage and treat their content as a true business asset, according to Scott Bowen, president and COO of Artesia. "Our application centers around the asset and its attributes," says Bowen. "Each asset has its own life cycle, including a workflow and a history of when and where the asset was used."

One of Artesia's clients is HBO, which has several hundred thousand promotional elements under management including photography, short form video and audio clips. "One essential reason for HBO's implementation was to provide a streamlined workflow for media assets that includes involvement from the legal department so that the digital rights perspective is covered," Bowen says. Contracts with performers may have specific requirements about how publicity is presented, so images need to be cleared for each use.

Extensis, an established company in the digital asset management market, caters to the needs of creative staff with its Portfolio product. Used by more than a million professionals, Portfolio competes on both ease of use and price.

"The projected boom in the DAM market never took place because many of the available products were difficult to use, expensive and did not reflect the workflow of creative professionals," says Kevin Hurst, VP of marketing.

MTV Networks is one of Portfolio's largest users, with well over a million files occupying multiple terabytes of storage space. The content managed by Portfolio includes assets used for video, Web, and print creation and distribution.

"Creative workflow is different from workflow associated with business processes such as compliance," Hurst points out. For example, moving assets into a Portfolio repository (referred to as a catalog) and automatically assigning metadata in batch mode are designed to be easy for graphic artists. Users of Adobe Photoshop can drag and drop images from the Portfolio catalog without leaving their application. Newly introduced Portfolio 7 also allows the metadata to be embedded into the asset file rather than being stored in a separate database. The metadata can be viewed from within other applications, such as Photoshop. Users who are working on a file can see such information as the original creator of the image, or the expiration date for digital rights to an asset.

The move to a digital world has changed more than the media itself—it is also changing the way media companies operate. "When Warner or Discovery shoots a film now, they are also shooting for the DVD and the electronic games associated with the film," says Joshua Duhl, research director of content management and rich media at IDC. The same digitized segments can be used for ads promoting the film or selling related merchandise. "Companies go downstream and find out who wants to use the video, and then upstream to do the shoots," Duhl adds. That shift has forced a degree of collaboration that was not present before, something of a cultural change for the industry.

Potential uses

Scott Bowen, president and COO of Artesia, describes five key areas for digital asset management:

  • Production asset management—centered on asset reuse during the creation side of media, typically for companies that produce and sell media content.

  • Brand asset management—marketing department and ad agency use of DAM for ensuring consistent and up-to-date branding through multiple channels.

  • Distribution asset management—takes finished digital content inventory and makes it available to its downstream point of consumption, including print, broadcast and online through integration with a Web content management or portal product.

  • Knowledge asset management—digital library collects a mixed set of content (documents, images and video) and rich metadata to provide a seamless environment for analysis.

  • Learning asset management—-a specific case of knowledge asset management, housing courseware and components that can be repurposed for a variety of training projects.

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.

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