Understanding Layered Asset Management

Perhaps the most discussed topic besides file-based workflow is that of asset management, whose dimensions cover a broad spectrum. If you speak asset management to a financial institution, you'd probably hear about money-related assets (e.g., investments). A manufacturing COO might relate asset management to physical assets (e.g., equipment, furnishings or inventories). And the CIA or NSA uses the phrase to describe their undercover covert operations.


For television, media and entertainment, the phrase "asset management" attaches a prefix which adds depth to its meaning. Today's prefixes include "media," "production" or "digital." Industry uses these combined terms to describe or sometimes even segment their asset management offerings. In turn, users become confused, often misunderstanding the variations of asset management, wrongly equating them to concepts or functions that don't meet their needs or expectations.

What is missing is a precise descriptive set of components that would help industry understand just what "asset management" means.

Generally, the term used most often to describe the management of those materials or content employed in broadcast, video or film production and post production remains "media asset management." Derived from medium, the singular of media, the noun describes that substance through which a result (an "effect") is transmitted from one entity to another.

Examples of components and processes that comprise the hierarchy of asset management for digital, media and production asset management In our industry, this medium started as film, became audio- and videotape, and was followed by optical disc or magnetic disk. The physical media has further migrated to solid state and holographic storage.

Each element of content is contained on a specific medium in a grouping known as a file. Files, as the generic carrier/storage format for assets, are stored in varying ways, on different forms of media and are transported over a copper or fiber medium through direct or network-based connections.

This is a relatively easy-to-visualize architecture. We'd probably agree that a digital representation of this content makes up the electrical or code structure of a file. Files often have either directly or indirectly attached information describing the file. Called "metadata," this is used to catalog ancillary references that are useful to current users and are designed to endure the content lifecycle as the file ages or is interchanged with other systems.

Like that of connection-oriented network technologies, asset management could be described in terms of "layers"—a hierarchy that provides varying value to the content and its users as the material moves through differing workflows and applications.


Since our discussion addressed the early forms of content storage in terms of the physical medium (film, tape and disc), we will consider the electrical representation of the media to be "digital." This now forms the highest level of asset management, that known as "digital asset management" (DAM).

The term "digital" is used as both a noun for the actual binary bits representing the asset, and a verb as in the active digital manipulation of the bits in a file—as opposed to the analog sense of cutting film strips or splicing videotape.

In the noun perspective, the digital asset to be managed could be audio, video, graphics, data-sets, word documents, scanned images and the like. In the verb perspective, these digital assets are manipulated through computer-based operations, which include moving, replicating (copying), parsing and destroying.

Only in the case of physical duplication, such as the printing and mastering processes of DVD or Blu-ray discs, are these assets handled in any other form besides that of an electronic, numerically based digital format.


The next layer is media asset management (MAM). Here again there are two distinctions. First is the handling of the physical media (LTO tape, XDCAM disc or P2 cards), which can be managed either robotically (in a library with a mechanical picking device); or physically as when humans retrieve the medium, then move or place it to another location or device. The more accepted meaning for MAM makes reference to "moving images" as files, which are processed, replicated, sliced, spliced, truncated or destroyed. Specifically, digital media assets are visual images or audio sound plus associated metadata represented in XML, binary or some form of digital language, database or protocol.


MAM is the foundation that enables the extension of specific subsets of asset management processes. MAM addresses the handling of captured raw images that move through storage of various elements and are utilized in editing, special effects, sweetening, etc. In this sense, the term "production asset management" (PAM) is attached.

PAM activities typically include the scheduling and usage of the medium; the assignment of physical production assets (editorial suites, storage media, drives or transports); and aids in the management of those workflow elements that surround the actual content assembly. This includes the original raw assets, proxies, versioning, protection, backup, and release masters.

We have, in recent times, seen PAM emerge as a terminology that addresses the "unflattened" in-process stages that occur prior to content finishing, release or distribution.

Ironically, an acceptable industry asset management term for what happens after the post-production process remains nebulous. Some editorial and asset management system providers still call this simply "MAM." Others prefer to make a definitive distinction between PAM and MAM. Some just call it asset distribution management. And few call it DAM.

From our short description of MAM, DAM and PAM maybe we can find a common descriptive set of terms that isn't embedded in marketing for the sense of product distinction. Your ideas are welcome!

Karl Paulsen, CPBE, is a SMPTE Fellow, technologist and consultant to the digital media and entertainment industry with Diversified Systems. You can contact him at kpaulsen@divsystems.com.

Karl Paulsen

Karl Paulsen is the CTO for Diversified, the global leader in media-related technologies, innovations and systems integration. Karl provides subject matter expertise and innovative visionary futures related to advanced networking and IP-technologies, workflow design and assessment, media asset management, and storage technologies. Karl is a SMPTE Life Fellow, a SBE Life Member & Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer, and the author of hundreds of articles focused on industry advances in cloud, storage, workflow, and media technologies. For over 25-years he has continually featured topics in TV Tech magazine—penning the magazine’s Storage and Media Technologies and its Cloudspotter’s Journal columns.