Five things you should know about DAM

The process that creates a centralized repository for digital files containing non-textual content, such as video recordings, still pictures, audio clips and graphical images, has several names — digital asset management (DAM), media asset management (MAM), digital asset warehousing and content management.

DAM provides tools that allow the content (assets) held in those files to be archived, searched and retrieved. Asset repositories store digital files. Asset databases store associated metadata describing the content, including file locations, assigned IDs, durations, titles, descriptions, annotations, key words, usage rights and low-res thumbnail images or proxy copies.

This definition is not specific to broadcasting, and in fact, DAM found its early adopters in publishing long before it arrived at the broadcast facility. While broadcasters have used asset management systems in the form of program tape libraries and news clip archives since the beginning of TV, the advent of digital files as the primary media for video and increasing requirements for the repurposing of video assets has created a demand for more sophisticated asset management tools.

In response, solution providers from several distinct application areas now offer products for broadcast DAM. These include enterprise DAM companies, automation software providers, editing and production system vendors, newsroom system suppliers, resource scheduling system providers and video storage system manufacturers.

From these diverse perspectives, the scope and required features of broadcast DAM have been interpreted differently to leverage the technology found within each company's products. This has resulted in a wide range of products labeled as broadcast DAM, leaving a challenging evaluation process for broadcasters.

This scenario has benefits and disadvantages. Since all broadcasters are not the same and therefore have different requirements for asset management, multiple solution choices provide a better fit. However, finding one solution to match all operational requirements can be difficult, especially when many products claim end-to-end reach.

Rather than offering an evaluation or categorization of specific products, the objective here is to offer a discussion of requirements to consider when deciding on a broadcast DAM solution. The following sections cover five things broadcasters should know about DAM.

  1. A database and media managerCompanies offering DAM solutions have different views on what broadcasters need. Understanding what the potential supplier sees as DAM is essential in selecting a company and product that can meet your current, as well as future requirements.At one end are enterprise DAM providers with solutions emphasizing database capabilities, sophisticated indexing and search tools, and inclusion of (or integration with) such business systems as rights management. These solutions are primarily designed for business and planning processes, not for broadcast operations or content production.With few exceptions, enterprise DAM products do not control video storage, playback or routing equipment and normally do not provide content acquisition (or ingest). In other words, they are designed to track and distribute information about content, not manage the content itself.At the other end are video storage system manufacturers. Their stake in the DAM landscape is in broadcast operations where their storage devices are located. From this perspective, DAM is primarily a media management tool and an extension of video storage technology. It emphasizes access performance, large storage capacity and multiformat support.In the movement to IT platforms, video storage systems have added enhanced database capabilities and options for proxy creation. However, their capabilities in these areas are often severely limited as compared with database-centric and client-server platform DAM solutions.In choosing a DAM provider, decide where your requirements and intended usage fall on the scale shown in Figure 1. There are always some uses (and users) that are exceptions, but your primary use of DAM should match the perspective of the solution provider.
  2. In DAM, “A” isn't just videoIn parallel with the demand for repurposing of assets, broadcasters are faced with increasing competition within their traditional markets. For each distribution path and market (e.g., broadcast TV in a major city), product differentiation has become an important tool for maintaining market share.Besides local news, branding is one of the few options available to enhance the broadcast product within a local market. By branding I mean not just the bug but also animated graphics, overlays, voice-overs and effects sequences that make their mark in the viewer's mind. (See Figure 2.)Many of the components of branding (e.g., stills, graphics, logos, animations, audio clips) are digital assets in their own right and should be part of your plans for DAM. While the media management capabilities of the devices that store and deliver these components currently lag behind those of video servers, that gap is closing. In other words: A solution for broadcast DAM today should include both video and non-video assets.
  3. Upstairs, downstairsIn this business, the needs and objectives of management, planning, production, news and operations define a diverse set of requirements for DAM. From their origins in other applications, enterprise DAM systems have developed advanced methods of database organization and indexing to provide sophisticated search capabilities, such as keyword cross-referencing (see Figure 3), phonetic matching, thesauri and word proximity criteria.Because of their wide deployment within an organization, many DAM systems offer multiple forms of user interface, such as a Web browser or application GUI. In some cases, this includes the ability to integrate DAM access within related applications (e.g., a window to find and view an asset from within a rights management system). These techniques from enterprise DAM provide a road map for broadcasters to deliver department's requirements via the existing IT infrastructure and systems.
  4. DAM for the big and smallDAM provides effective tools for both large and small broadcasters, but the volume and types of content can vary widely. The key to adapting DAM to your requirements lies in workflow or, more correctly, automated workflow.Most DAM systems include some workflow management, providing tools to define a sequence of processing steps (i.e., tasks) using the capabilities of the DAM system. Beyond defining a workflow of tasks within the DAM system, advanced workflow managers automatically initiate tasks, monitor jobs through the workflow and assign tasks by external systems.For example, a workflow to acquire and prepare content for air will use functions of the DAM system, such as content registration, metadata capture and proxy creation, as well as require tasks from other systems to control ingest, verify standards compliance and cache content files for playout. A comprehensive, automated workflow manager within the DAM system is an invaluable tool in optimizing the use of generalized solutions to specific requirements. (See Figure 4.)
  5. Old newsFrom using index cards and tape to databases and video servers, news operations have always found ways to store and catalog their clips. With or without the acronym, this is DAM.

The ability to locate and reuse clips on a specific topic or showing a particular person or location is a core part of news production. As with any mission-critical function, these tools must work reliably without specialized training. These requirements from news — both the functions themselves and the effectiveness of their implementation — will be essential for broadcast DAM overall.

The message here is to use the experience of your news department to assist in the evaluation of a proposed DAM solution. Even if initially they have no plans to replace their current news library system, their input on requirements and ease of use can be invaluable.


DAM for broadcasters is here. As broadcast technology merges with information technology, the proven benefits of digital asset management are close behind. With broadcast solutions operating on IT platforms, proving wide access to assets becomes a business decision, not a technical hurdle.

John Wadle is product manager for OPUS at OmniBus Systems.