Unlocking archiving assets

The process for moving any asset from the archive to a nonlinear editor or video server still tends to be a manual process, with many tapes being created from a master for use within the new program creation process. Traditional system architectures may vary according to the work practices adopted, but this typically will include an archival storage repository.

What is required is an automated method of cataloguing, finding, retrieving and manipulating assets within a network environment throughout the broadcast lifecycle. It is a conservative estimate that more than 95.5 percent of the world’s global mountain of content does not generate revenue. If that figure could be reduced two- or threefold, then potentially significant new revenues could be generated for content owners. The challenge will be how to unlock these assets within the mountain of content that currently resides within the archive.

Moving the mountain

For the past few years, investments have been made in the development of systems designed to deliver video over traditional broadcast channels as well as computer-type networks for business and consumer applications. These systems include such diverse services as video-on-demand (VOD) deployments to enterprise-wide distribution of multimedia objects, such as video, pictures, graphics and animation. A common thread that runs through these applications is the need to store and access video as data.

To truly move the archive from the more traditional library approach to part of an automated production process will not be easy. These traditional archives will contain content that has been stored on many different media with finite shelf lives, and will vary in size from the small through to the enormous. The cost to digitize and catalog assets onto a management system will be prohibitively expensive for all but the smallest archives. There may be a ‘content dark ages,’ where 90 percent of the current archive will slowly disappear, and only 10 percent of existing archives will be digitized within a hierarchical storage environment. Now is the time to consider archiving all new content digitally as part of these storage environments, especially if the new multichannels to the consumer begin to proliferate.

The growth in the content mountain will ultimately force organizations to look at the way they manage their archives. Architectures vary, but they must provide for a storage hierarchy to keep pace with this growth. The mix between tape and disk will be determined by many factors, but usually it is a function of latency against cost. The traditional view is that tape-based systems are slow. The inclusion of large robotic tape libraries, with the Moore’s Law effect on storage densities, have certainly made digital tape libraries a viable part of the storage solution.

What will be the standard that these new archives use to store content? Once content is compressed, then quality will inevitably be lost. If the archive stores content at the highest quality, then there will be a transcod-ing requirement on the egress from the system, dependent upon the end-user requirements.

How will assets be found and retrieved from the system by the user? The metadata associated with the asset will be the key to resolving these complex issues. Once again, there is a variety of standards being mooted for the broadcast environment, with MXF being the current frontrunner.

Timely, good-quality content is one of the key components for a successful retrieval service. Good quality programming attracts and keeps customers, and these new architectures will provide well-managed content. In addition, automated processes will cut the ongoing service costs and can reduce the potential for errors. Defining content’s metadata and managing it are not easy tasks, especially when dealing with content-rich services. It is only now that technologists are realizing the urgent need for tools to ease the burden. Broadcasters and other service providers are in the vanguard for developing these tools, as they are the organizations that have the operational problems associated with content maintenance. The future broadcast archive needs to be fully integrated into a content system as part of true storage hierarchy. This will provide a repository of assets and metadata and will be capable of handling content in any format.

Bob Collin is a platform architect for BT Broadcast Services.

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