NAB2003Automation, Asset Management Bigger Than Ever

With media consolidation an industry reality, it may come as no surprise that TV station automation and asset management (AM) solutions were among the hottest offerings at NAB2003. What may raise some eyebrows however, is the fact that several so-called “automation” companies—namely Crispin, Florical, Harris Automation, and Sundance Digital— introduced asset management solutions at the show. Your station still not ready to join in the automation-asset management combo extravaganza? Not to worry, BBC Technology, Chyron, and Masstech debuted traditional asset management solutions, while Encoda Systems stayed firmly in the automation camp.

Automation In AM’s Territory

Crispin, known primarily for its RapidPlayX automation system, introduced the RapidPrep interface at NAB2003. It pulls program data from the AssetBase data management system (the latest incarnation of AssetBase is AssetBase3000, which also debuted at NAB2003) in order to create accurate timing information for use by the RapidPlayX in playback. The company also introduced the new Crispin Archive Manager (CAM) system. CAM provides end-to-end realtime video content cataloging, storage, and realtime video content for playback and editing, as well as a DVD-RAM archive solution for asset storage on individual cartridge or robotic jukeboxes. A new “Low-Rez” video server, a “shadow” server that can stand alone or be integrated with CAM, automatically creates low resolution files from primary video servers for viewing, reviewing, or segmenting material.

Alan DeVaney, president and co-founder of Crispin, says the more stations adopt fully digital asset-based operations, the more automation companies have to get on the ball with asset management systems.

“Anyway you look at it today, we better be focused on asset management,” he said. “You can no longer put your hand on that physical tape, that’s got a label on it, that sits on the shelf...The ability to address asset management is a key differentiater for automation companies.”

Crispin’s competitor Florical has actually been involved in asset management since early 1997, when it debuted the SpotCacher, a hierarchical asset management system. But it is most famous for its ShareCasting distributed broadcast systems. At NAB2003, it showed version 3.0 of its MediaMaster asset management system, which has added asset management control of video server systems through the LAN. It also debuted the DiscoTrans (Discovery and Transfer of Assets) application, which performs rules-based discovery and transfer of assets stored in video server systems. The system is modular, so to speak, in that it can handle very simple tasks, such as mirroring assets in two video servers, or extremely complicated tasks, such as the automated discovery and transfer of assets among video servers used in a ShareCasting system.

In the automation arena, Florical introduced the AutoTag and L100/LT200 systems (see more about the L100/LT200 systems in the “For The Little Guys” sidebar). AutoTag automatically inserts localized tags onto promotional spots for syndicated programs using the company’s AirBoss and MediaFiler systems with Inscriber’s Namedropper XL. AutoTag is especially useful for centralcasting applications. It eliminates the need for operators at different stations to record promotional tags. Jim Moneyhun, president of Florical Systems, is the first to admit that the AutoTag doesn’t bode well for those “human” promotional-tag operators looking to keep their jobs, but says it’s a fact of life in the tight economy. “Employee reductions are a necessary thing for television stations these days, because of the loss of audience [with the effect on ad revenues], the extra cost involved in digital television...just a whole series of factors,” he said. “[Stations] just don’t have the money they used to have, and they have to find ways of saving money just to stay in business.”

Harris, which became a big player in automation after acquiring Louth Automation in 2000, introduced the Harris Resource Suite (hrs) at NAB2003. hrs essentially networks what it calls “the formerly isolated” ingest, media management, and playout systems in a broadcast facility. The digital media ingest function of the system eliminates the need to re-stroke metadata ingested with files from content delivery systems outside the broadcast facility. On the asset management side of things, the system can accept Harris’ Asset Manager application, which can handle metadata-based search, browse, dub, index, logging, and rights-management functions.

According to Brian Lay, hrs product marketing director, the solution is the logical next step from Harris’ automation solutions. “The pieces that we showed at NAB are primarily related to automating the ingest and the media management part,” he said. “We’ve always had the automated playout part—that’s the core of our business. We’re the market leader in terms of that kind of automation. So this is linking those pieces that need to support that, and putting them in an automated workflow.”

In addition to introducing enhancements and functionalities for several of its established systems, including the NewsLink, Titan, FastBreak Automation, and FastBreak Spot Play solutions, Sundance Digital made its first big foray into the asset management arena with the introduction of the Seeker, a digital asset management system. Built on a Microsoft SQL database platform, it allows users to classify, disseminate, organize, and manage audio, video, graphics, and document-based media asset information. It can ingest each type of asset regardless of file format and index it so it is accessible anywhere on the network and can retrieve a digitized asset by any computer that has access to the Internet.

Robert Johnson, Sundance Digital’s president, says his company has always dabbled in asset management. “Automation through our systems has always encompassed some form of asset management,” he said. As an example, he pointed to the company’s SalesView Lo-Res and ProgramView Lo-Res applications, which allow desktop users to review content that is on the video server—which is controlled by automation—either in a high or low resolution format. “The [next] logical step in that was to branch out to master control,” said Johnson. “We’ve been saying that for years master control has been an island within a TV station—it really has had very little communication with the outside world. And you need to have a much broader picture of the media content and other content that’s in a TV station, than [what you typically see] in an automation system.”

Asset Management, Straight Up

BBC Technology, which is trying to make a name for itself in asset management in the U.S., announced the Colledia asset management portfolio at NAB2003. The product line-up includes Colledia for News, Colledia for Production, and Colledia for Sports (which was covered in the April 2003 issue of Sports TV Production). Colledia for News will probably make the biggest splash among broadcasters. It addresses the problems faced by news production facilities looking to manage large amounts of tape-based assets, allowing enterprise-wide access to feeds immediately as they arrive into the facility to the desktop, as well as from archival sources. Although it is primarily meant to manage server-based (as opposed to tape-based) assets, it can accept tape as an ingest source. “Many broadcasters are not prepared to make the type of investment it takes to be fully digital all at once—so [the Colledia for News] can provide that hybrid type of experience, but at the same time, lay the framework, over time, for moving away from tape,” said Mitchell Linden, senior vice president, North American operations. For example, BBC News 24 in the U.K. is using a customized Colledia for News system. It archives all assets on video, temporarily storing the most recent or “red hot” feeds on servers for easy access. After 72 hours, Colledia for News “purges” them to videotape, but the system retains a proxy so that users have the ability to quickly search and find out that material is available, even if they still have to dredge it up on tape.

With the introduction of the new SOLO laptop-based editing system, Chyron’s graphics business stole NAB2003 right out from under the company’s Pro-Bel division. But the company’s less-glamorous U.K. cousin had some stories to tell as well. Mainly, it released several major enhancements to its MAPP media asset management system, including the Asset Mail application, which connects to multiple MAAP databases and facilitates the process of remote material copy transfers from one MAPP system to another. Turner Entertainment Networks is using Asset Mail to transfer media and metadata between its transmission systems and a centralized archive system. Pro-Bel also debuted Super Administration, which allows search and edit functions to be conducted across multiple networks (such as with the affiliates of a TV network, for example) by interfacing to the application server in each system.

Pro-Bel also introduced the Material Preparation Manager, which allows the MAPP system to “pre-stage” material located in a station’s “deep” archives several days ahead of transmission in order for it to be loaded onto the automation system. Material Preparation Manager, along with Asset Mail and Super Administration, seem part of a strategy aimed at allowing multiple facilities to leverage the same content rapidly. Neil Maycock, Chyron Pro-Bel’s vice president of engineering, would likely concur. “The recent enhancements to MAPP reflect how the broadcast model is changing. Greater use of servers and the centralization of broadcasts are changing the way media has to be handled,” he said.

Masstech introduced the MassMedia Box and MassBrowser at NAB2003, building upon the asset management, storage infrastructure, and transcoding technology first brought to market with the MassStore asset management and storage production introduced at NAB2002. MassMedia Box provides end-to-end content management, including ingest of satellite and terrestrial deliveries, content transcoding, and preparation for play-to-air through native integration with most automation systems. It can also generate low resolution proxy versions of MPEG-2 files for content management and preparation across low-bandwidth IP networks. MassBrowser is an MPEG-4 editor for MPEG-4 proxies. It allows “cuts-only” editing in preparation for on-air playout.

For The Little Guys

In terms of TV station automation, not everyone needs “the biggest.” Encoda Systems introduced the DAL A5000 D-series, an automation solution tailored more toward smaller broadcasters, at NAB2003. It employs the same feature set and interface found in the company’s more high-end, multichannel solutions, but can only automate one to four playout channels. “A broadcaster who has a small budget this year, or is not quite sure what is going to happen in the future [with his budget]—can start on the A5000 and easily move up,” said Susan Hoffer, Encoda Systems’ marketing manager for automation. “He can move up to the next system, a 6500 or 7500, depending upon what his needs are.”

With the new L100 and LT200 systems, Florical is also looking to give smaller operations an entry point into automation. L100 provides those who just can’t afford a full-on system a complete commercial insertion solution that includes on-air presentation, spot-ingest, and traffic schedule import and reconciliation. LT200 provides commercial insertion and program playback for one or two channels.

OmniBus, which is known primarily for such large-scale automation systems as the Colossus, debuted the HeadLine series, an entry level news automation system, at NAB2003. HeadLine is comprised of three levels of offerings, Edit 1000, a desktop editor that uses browse-resolution proxies; Edit 2000, which operates at broadcast resolution and includes a number of audio-crafting tools; and Edit 3000, a self-contained package designed for journalists in the field that includes a DV input card and the ability to deliver completed packages over data networks.


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BBC Technology



Harris Automation


Sundance Digital

Sarah Stanfield is the managing editor. She can be reached at

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