Broadcasters and other content providers realized enormous gains in flexibility as they transitioned from tape-based operations to digital media. Coincident with this transition came the rapid expansion of content distribution channels, which extended beyond conventional print and broadcast media to include a variety of new platforms, such as Internet portals and mobile media services. Making it easier than ever for consumers to access and “pull” content at their convenience, these new technologies and platforms put increased competitive pressures on content providers. They recognized an urgent need to offer services over new channels if they were to maintain audiences and the corresponding ad revenues vital to the bottom line. The entry of telcos and ISPs into the fray further heightened the urgency of effective multiplatform delivery as newcomers to the broadcast industry began acquiring rights to content; providing voice, video, and data to customers; and billing for those services.
To remain competitive and to meet consumer demand for content across multiple platforms, many content providers initially established parallel production chains for delivery of repurposed content. Facing growing volumes of media in multiple versions — and facing still-increasing numbers of distribution targets — many media companies found it necessary to recast their operations with a new focus on managing a single brand across multiple outlets, including broadcast TV channels, newspapers, radio stations, Web portals, mobile TV and iPhone applications.
This brand-focused model is defined by one primary objective: keeping consumers on the brand from dawn until dusk, across all activities performed and locations visited in the course of a day. To satisfy this challenge, the content provider must be equipped to feed each platform and device on a daily basis. Building more and more production chains to achieve this goal is a highly inefficient exercise. Rather, for the brand-focused multiplatform model to be economically viable, the content provider must be able to provide significantly more content with a minimal incremental increase in the cost of producing that content. If deployed appropriately, today's advanced digital media asset management (DMAM) systems offer the flexibility and functionality to enable the necessary efficiencies and economies of scale required for maximum revenue in multiplatform distribution.
The shift to digital media and IT-based workflows represents more than a technical change; it has a practical impact, too, changing the way content providers work. When operations were dependent on tape as a vehicle for moving content through a facility and workflow, it was tape that served as the link between proprietary, independently operating storage, automation, post production and other essential systems and determined how they would work together. Moving from that world of proprietary technologies to more open IT-based environments, content providers must capitalize on the opportunity to optimize overall workflows through smooth interoperability and seamless integration of critical systems.
Prior to taking on technical and infrastructure issues associated with implementation of a DMAM, the content provider must define the desired workflow and identify the roles staff and systems will play in that workflow. After determining the distribution chains that must be supported, the company must create a step-by-step model and parallel processes by which raw material is transformed into the products delivered to different platforms. In building this digital media factory, the content provider needs to account for future growth in network size, increase in number or capacity of server systems, the addition of transcoding facilities and any other changes that might require scaling up of the DMAM system. Finally, the DMAM system should include a mechanism for monitoring the software and hardware comprising the overall workflow and for detecting issues and resolving them before the production chain is disrupted.
Technical and infrastructure issues
The content provider rarely starts from scratch when implementing an end-to-end workflow supporting multiplatform media distribution. The requisite servers, archives, nonlinear edit systems and other major production and broadcast systems are likely in place already. The key lies in building both the technical foundation and the operational model to support a streamlined workflow that allows producers, journalists, archivists and others to access, prepare and deliver content via the appropriate channel.
By supplying content owners with a strategy for linking vital systems and by facilitating the ingest, indexing, broadcast/publishing and archiving of content — whether video, audio or images — on any medium or platform, a single DMAM system can support effective management, repurposing and monetization of media assets. The DMAM must address four fundamental challenges to perform this role successfully: interoperability, integration, compatibility and ergonomics.
In an ideal IT-based environment, all systems should be interoperable. In reality, it often is up to the DMAM system, relying on standard IT technologies, to enable interoperability among different applications running on different platforms or frameworks. This is made possible by a Web Services Architecture, which uses HTTP with an XML serialization, along with other standards, to exchange messages with third-party systems and streamline their operation across the workflow. Additional “connectors” enabled by the system's API and SDK can provide command lists that allow the DMAM to send and receive information from other third-party systems in a standardized manner. Thus, each time the DMAM interfaces with a particular system, it is equipped with a set of rules guiding and governing the interaction.
In a departure from the history of proprietary solutions developed for the broadcast industry, a high degree of interoperability is a vital characteristic of a DMAM system intended to support multiplatform media delivery. High interoperability enables tight integration, and established DMAM systems typically offer more of this functionality — and do so more reliably — as a result of already being installed across a large base featuring a variety of third-party systems.
The capacity of a vendor to provide an API and SDK for its solution is critical to successful integration, as these tools offer users a way to enter the DMAM system and to create a bidirectional dialog with the system and other devices in the workflow. Without this dialog, the system is a black box.
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Multiplatform media delivery has exploded, allowing consumers to access media on virtually any device. The dramatic rise in the formats required to target all these devices presents a real challenge to content providers, and the DMAM system being implemented should be sufficiently robust to accommodate this profusion of formats. Future-proof operation depends on the DMAM's flexibility in handling new formats. In other words, the content provider cannot afford for its investment in asset management to be compromised by limited format support.
Efficiency in multiplatform delivery depends on the DMAM system's ability to retrieve and leverage a single master to create the appropriate versions of content for each platform and to publish the resulting content to the right places or target devices in the right formats. A key feature of the DMAM system is its ability to manage different formats and versions of the same video master. Over the lifetime of an asset, as one master is used to produce content for different distribution platforms, the growing collection of related media assets creates a complex tree. The content provider needs a way to manage metadata across all of this content and, in turn, to manage all of its versions and maintain an understanding of how the content has been used.
System GUI and ergonomics
A DMAM system can grow to be complex, but the interface and functionality it provides to each user must remain as simple as possible. The system must be versatile enough in its configuration options to show each user the minimum required to perform his or her job. So, the DMAM must be sophisticated in its operations in the background, handling a complicated workflow based on a complex metadata model, but it must offer users an easy-to-use interface that supports their everyday work.
A modular design enables provision of just the right functionality or features required by the user. In some cases, the interface can be populated by a series of widgets or applications suited to a particular job. In other cases, a specific screen might be created for each job or position. One screen might provide the information required by a supervisor, another might offer search/retrieve tools optimized for journalists and another indexing capabilities to the archivist. As long as people are a part of the workflow, the DMAM system interface is essential to efficient and effective use of the system.
Global media brand L'Equipe Group comprises the L'Equipe TV sports news channel, the www.lequipe.fr website, the RTL-L'Equipe digital radio station and the print magazine and newspaper also dubbed “L'Equipe.” The French media group serves as a real-world example of how an effective DMAM system can enable a content provider or owner to maintain its brand at the forefront of consumers' awareness. Every month, across all its outlets, L'Equipe reaches 18 million people. They read the paper in the morning, check the website when they get to work, get news and sports during the day on their iPhones and then — back at home in the evening — watch a TV broadcast or return to the Internet for further content. The company instituted a new DMAM to feed all of these outlets quickly and cost-effectively.
The digital media factory (DMF) at L'Equipe was created to facilitate creation and delivery of video on virtually every platform, including TV, Web, mobile and VOD. Media archives dating back to the 1920s were digitized and brought onto the system along with newer assets, putting content at the fingertips of the “L'Equipe” newsroom, website, broadcast and print staff. Select business partners and clients also gained fast, convenient access to licensed content through the DMF. In addition to providing a content archive, the DMAM system enables powerful searches and low-resolution browsing from any Web-based interface. A partial-restore function enables editors to access only the high-resolution media they need and to do so quickly rather than wait for the entire file to transfer. Automation of tasks such as speech-to-text processing, transcoding, quality control, FTP delivery and other critical functions saves time and improves the accuracy of media handling.
Because the DMF at L'Equipe is connected to various third-party systems by modules defining their interactions, applications such as editing platforms, automation and archives operate smoothly together. While production is under way, metadata related to digital rights for each piece of content is used to confirm whether or not the material can be prepared and delivered to certain outlets.
Though the IT-based solutions supporting efficient asset management continue to evolve, it's not the underlying technology that will determine the success of today's and tomorrow's content providers. With the consumer now able to choose how, where and when to view media, content is king. The true key lies in producing or acquiring content that viewers want. If a content provider or media brand is able to offer the programming and personalities that consumers demand, then it can leverage a good DMAM system to manage and monetize this content to its best advantage.
Christine Jecko is vice president of sales at Netia.