Digital asset management: Workgroup or enterprise?

Enterprise-wide DAM provides the means to exploit content as assets
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Danish Broadcasting’s recently completed Sports and News Production System is based on the SGI Media Server for broadcast system.

Broadcasters who are looking to purchase digital asset management (DAM) technology have many factors to consider. One of the key decisions to face is the scale of the project. It is possible to purchase low-cost products to manage the assets of a department or a project. At the other end of the scale, a system can be rolled out across the entire enterprise. However, such systems can carry a heavy price tag. In the first case, the purchasing decisions could rest with local station staff. For the latter, many station departments may be involved in the specification and selection process.

There is no shortage of DAM vendors, and they provide systems to suit any size of installation. The question many ask is: “Why is DAM necessary today when networks have been turning out programs successfully for more than 50 years?” Two good reasons are the movement toward disk-based production and the need to automate business processes.

In the new presentation suite at Channel Four Television in the UK, 200 desktop PCs are linked to the Pharos Mediator media library management system.

As broadcasters adopt tapeless production workflows, the need for asset management becomes essential. Files are ephemeral assets; they do not sit neatly bar-coded on a library shelf like a videocassette. With DAM, you can augment the videotape library with servers and robotic data silos. For previews and research, a low-resolution streaming file replaces the VHS or U-Matic tapes. The card index or tracking sheet becomes metadata and an aid to search.

Even so, the decision to actually invest in digital asset management is not obvious. It's possible to make and transmit programs without it. And, like many stations, if you have just made a big investment in a new tower for HD, the cost of a DAM system may be unwelcome. Unfortunately, this has led to many ad hoc decisions to purchase workgroup systems. The cost and complexity has caused many media businesses to shy away from enterprise systems. First, it may be difficult to show return on investment (ROI), and second, the staff may fear the inevitable changes in work practices.

Figure 1. A small DAM system for a workgroup includes a database, a media store and a search facility. Click here to see an enlarged diagram.

Over the last 10 to 20 years, there has been a revolution in business process automation. Much of this change has yet to affect the broadcast sector. Many television companies still operate under the old craft paradigm of the film industry. The sheer number of distribution channels and the ever-onward globalization of the industry mean that many operators have become media factories. Content is repurposed for different markets and localized for export. It is just another production line. In this environment, media publishers cannot ignore how other industries are reinventing their operational practices and workflows in order to realize efficiencies and to lower costs. A television program or commercial is a product, just like a car or a box of laundry detergent.

Where are the DAM benefits?

The network that takes this road has most to gain from deploying enterprise-wide DAM. One issue about DAM projects that is always raised is the ROI. What is the savings from reduced demand for VHS dubs? Is the annual bill for courier services going to go down? These are savings, but that is not what DAM is about. It is not just the sensible management of file-based workflows.

Enterprise-wide DAM imposes new disciplines on a company, and it provides the means to exploit content as assets. As an example, global television companies can reversion content for new markets in any number of languages. The management of sound dubbing, captioning and subtitling is much simplified under the umbrella of DAM. Producers can access the information they need from a desktop computer. They can see the rights information, preview the archive and track the progress of projects within a federated environment.

SKY New Zealand uses Dalet Digital Media’s DaletPlus News Suite and DaletPlus Media Library for media asset management.

Another advantage of using DAM is that it is quicker to search for assets. It is not unknown for a producer to recreate lost assets because conventional searches for the clips prove to be fruitless. This is often cited as part of the ROI case.

Beyond these improved efficiencies, DAM presents the means to mine the program archive for new sales opportunities through re-use of the intellectual property. New channels for video content, such as 3G mobile phones and TV over IP, provide broadcasters with new ways to reach consumers. To exploit these channels without increasing overheads, the publishing systems have to use extensive automation. Issues such as lack of rights management information could potentially be barriers to profitability, but an effective and encompassing DAM system provides the toolkit to exploit these opportunities. Comprehensive metadata and federated (distributed) databases give speedy access to all production-related information from the desktop terminal.

An additional benefit often quoted for DAM is that it can accelerate the cycle time of content creation. This is paramount with news, but applies to many other forms of content, including commercials. Some campaigns run to tight deadlines, such as elections for instance. Networks need to be able to respond quickly to client demands for new commercials and new channels.

The typical workgroup asset management system comprises a database, a media store and a search facility. (See Figure 1.) These products are typically based around a shared storage system for video and audio files. Sometimes they are further customized to news or graphics tasks. Sometimes work-group applications can be tied to larger solutions, but the focus is on a smaller set of tasks with a bounded feature set.

These solutions are designed for a specific task and usually not extensible to other areas of the business. For this, we must turn to the enterprise products.

Workgroup DAM

Workgroup DAM has traditionally been operated as an island. Video content is moved in and out on tape. Data links to other applications have been limited. We are starting to see this isolation broken down. New standards such as AAF and MXF mean that files and data can be interchanged much more easily than was previously possible.

Figure 2. An enterprise-wide DAM system is hooked into all aspects of a business. Click here to see an enlarged diagram.

In contrast, enterprise DAM is an end-to-end solution. (See Figures 2 and 3.) This carries a heavy price penalty; to integrate DAM with other business systems requires extensive professional services. The cost of such services can run between five and 10 times the ticket price of the DAM software application. Also, as with any large IT deployment, the risk increases. If workgroup DAM fails to offer any advantages, it can be trashed. An enterprise product is intimately hooked into all aspects of the business, so future changes are not inconsequential and must be carefully considered. Fortunately, the risks can be mitigated with professional planning and design. There are many examples inside and outside the television business of successful installs.

However, it is the pervasive nature of enterprise DAM that brings the advantages to a business looking to automate. The DAM can link to scheduling systems for efficient deployment of staff and video hardware. Back-office systems and accounts can benefit from access to the program metadata and workflow information. For senior management, it offers new reporting windows on the business.

Figure 3. An enterprise-wide DAM system uses a multi-tiered software architecture. Click here to see an enlarged diagram.

DAM means different things to different people. For amateur photographers, an inexpensive piece of software manages their photo libraries. To major networks, the enterprise-scale systems such as IBM, Blue Order, OpenText's Artesia and others underpin a new way to run the business of creating and publishing video content. (For a list of vendors, see Broadcast Engineering's Digital Reference Guide at

Enterprise DAM

Too numerous to mention are the many products that sit between these extremes of big and small. These workgroup products provide sterling service to graphics departments, production offices and program projects at quite modest investments.

The choice between a large or small DAM installation is not as simple as comparing product features; it is more a question of how you want to run your business. One resource for new purchasers is the Global Society for Asset Management ( An array of resources, both human and vendor, are available through the group.

Implementing a DAM solution with-in a broadcast station, network or corporation is not to be taken lightly. It can be expensive, time-consuming and, at times, frustrating. However, the benefits of an enterprise-wide DAM are numerous and can improve both company profits and employee performance.


David Austerberry is a technical writer and consultant on video technologies and is based in the UK. He is author of “Digital Asset Management: How to Realize the Value of Video and Image Libraries,” published by Focal Press.