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Addressing The Real Issues of Asset Management

Addressing The Real Issues Of Asset Management | From Megahertz Systems To Megabit Systems

I am sure you are thoroughly sick of articles which start “the television industry is becoming much more competitive,” talk about “new workflows for the digital era” or assert that you have to “repurpose content” to make money. We all know this, but progress seems slow. Why is that?

I believe the reason is that a lot of people—and certainly most equipment suppliers—still do not understand what is really important. Manufacturers are keen to sell you their latest box but thinking about point products is most definitely part of the problem, not part of the solution. We must seek to pull disparate requirements—and probably disparate providers—into a set of integrated, effective and flexible workflows.

So here is one more cliché, but this time I believe it is at the heart of the matter. Audiences want to watch—and therefore broadcasters should want to deliver—content, not media. How it gets acquired, created, handled, stored and delivered is irrelevant. If audiences get the content they want, when and where they want it, they will be happy. If audiences are happy, the companies creating and delivering the content will make money. It’s as simple as that.

Increasingly, cable companies, satellite services and telecommunications companies are joining broadcasters as they identify new revenue opportunities based around rich media content: delivering high quality video (such as HD) over multiple distribution platforms, and at the same time finding ways of making that content work across different devices and formats. All are on the offensive to take their share of the audience’s eyeballs. Each has its own value proposition, its own unique benefits in the way content is delivered. To be competitive, internal systems have to be highly efficient, moving the content seamlessly from production through delivery over multiple distribution channels to archive.

Over the last decade, the term “media asset management” has come to prominence. But media asset management means very different things to different people. For some, it is a highly specified, browse-able database (and all the challenges that implies); for others it is simply the movement of content from tape to disk storage. In truth, there are a number of complementary activities which are all asset management: control of the physical assets, automation of storage and delivery, production asset management, archiving and so forth.

At Thomson, we are working closely with major media and entertainment leaders to help to ensure that equipment, critical applications (including relevant software frameworks) and systems integration procedures are in place to help them realize these new revenue-generation opportunities. A key area of support for us in this regard is the development of a cost-effective, flexible media asset management solution.

We also need to add another consideration: repurposing. Even if they are not now, within the next year or two audiences will be demanding content on a range of devices, from large-screen HD displays at one extreme to cellphones and PDAs at the other. No one is suggesting that we might see HD displays on PDAs or mobile phones, so content has to be repurposed for the different delivery platforms.

This is much more complicated than changing resolutions, by the way: imagine a baseball game framed for and shot in HD. Then downsize it to 320 x 240 pixels (and 15 frames a second) for a portable device. Are you going to see where the ball goes? Repurposing involves re-creating as well as simply changing resolution and timing to fit the new delivery specifications.

But you cannot do it by compromising HD. Audiences—and particularly sports audiences—are recognizing and demanding HD for its quality, but broadcasters have to create a commercially sustainable delivery model. The Fox network, for example, delayed its move to HD until it was able to create an infrastructure (developed in conjunction with Thomson) that delivers native 720p while providing all the functionality of the old standard definition days, like local advertising insertion, time-shifting and local and regional coverage.

Having climbed that mountain, everyone involved in delivering electronic media now faces a new challenge: the era of multiple platforms. The only sustainable business model for the future is one which accepts multiple origination formats and supports cross-platform delivery with all the ramifications that are implied. Which brings me back to the manufacturers looking to sell you their latest box.

Their latest box will need to be connected to other boxes, perhaps from different manufacturers. Quickly you end up with a cat’s cradle of interoperability attempting to cover every path through the enterprise. The system—on which you are relying to be lean and mean in this highly competitive world—becomes a nightmare to maintain and impossible to expand to meet opportunistic new business plans.

At Thomson, we’ve set a goal of managing content in any format between systems with ease. But you will not see a killer product to solve all your problems. We believe that this is too big and too important a problem for a one-size-fits-all solution.

At NAB we unveiled an initiative we call dMAX—for digital media asset maximization. It is part of our program to bring together cost-effective networking and management tools from the IT industry with Grass Valley’s expertise in broadcast technology. Add our systems integration and project management skills, and the result is a way to identify our customers’ critical workflows and provide modern, seamless systems to support them. The dMAX initiative will deliver critical applications—like asset management, configuration and control, automated redundancy switchover, content protection, facility management and monitoring—to create complete, optimized, end-to-end workflows.

Operations & Management System

There is one primary reason to do this: so you can work smarter. Modern systems like dMAX are there to allow your assets and your people to do more, by taking away the drudgery and letting the staff concentrate on what is important. In an automated environment, though, managing the functional assets of your facility is as important as tracking the content assets. Constant health checks on all the hardware and software gives you proactive control of maintenance and faultfinding.

The move from video-centric architectures to data-centric architectures is both good news and bad news. Good news in that the standard IT solutions are finding their way into broadcast centers—SANs, data routers and so on are designed for system-level monitoring. Bad news in that IT reliability rates are generally not as high as broadcasters would want.

HBO’s broadcast center in Hauppauge, NY was constructed in 1983 and further developed in 2002 as part of the company’s response to migrate to tapeless architectures and allow it to substantially increase its multi-channel capabilities and reduce traditional expenses. As Senior VP for Operations and Engineering, Charles Cataldo and his team were responsible for the technical rethink which, as he describes it, changed the plant from megahertz systems to megabit systems. What he would not condone was any reduction in systems reliability, which HBO defines as “five nines”: 99.999% availability.

Achieving that meant careful systems design, along with facility monitoring (based around our Grass Valley SNMP-based NetCentral software) designed for the job.

Open standards form a key part of the dMAX initiative, creating the opportunity to integrate third party products where they provide the required functionality, and where they are capable of seamless integration and management.

The driving requirement is to provide a single system that achieves what the end user requires and is simple to maintain, scalable and cost effective. Every broadcaster will have different requirements and a different workflow. dMAX is there to make that workflow happen.

Why dMAX?

Why are we taking this road? First, we believe that there is a real need, here and now, for systems which manage the assets of electronic content businesses, and which are in tune with today’s commercial realities. We see products that solve part of the problem at one extreme, and wildly over-ambitious (and over-priced) systems from IT specialists at the other, but until now we see no one being authoritative in the practical middle ground.

Second, we have the resources to drive this initiative. We continue to invest heavily in R&D. This gives us the technology and expertise to take the top-level view and push it into all of our workflow and product ranges. We also have a large and highly regarded systems group that has delivered fully integrated solutions for customers around the world. Delivering systems is a continuously expanding part of our offering.

Third, we believe we have the right relationship with our customers. To get the benefit of dMAX means working together, scoping the requirements, fine-tuning the deliverables and providing life-cycle support. We are not newcomers to the field: we have provided system integration and equipment support to large numbers of stations in the US (including ABC and NBC O&Os) and to broadcasters as diverse as France 3, Australia’s Network 7 and SBS in Korea.

These are challenging times. Established broadcasters are working through the challenges of moving to HD; telcos are promoting their platforms for video on demand as well as broadband content; and anyone who was at this year’s IBC convention could not fail to notice the extraordinary opportunities now open to deliver content to mobile devices.

Thomson has combined all its considerable resources to establish dMAX. Now we need to talk about how we can make the most out of your content and your workflow.

Jay Ghosh is the general manager of system applications software for Grass Valley.