Preserving Broadcast's Legacy

Many factors go into determining feasibility of digitizing, tracking legacy assets


With the proliferation of media outlets all hungry for content, there is newfound demand for classic television shows and historically significant footage. Somewhere in the dusty stacks of videotapes in a television station's storage room or basement may be valuable gems that could find a new audience and generate new revenue.

If this older footage were converted to digital files stored on disk-based storage units, managed by a Media Asset Management (MAM) system, it would be easier to search, access, repurpose, distribute and preserve.

But vendors of MAM systems say that the business case for bringing older footage into the digital domain depends upon many factors, including the potential market for the contents, the expense of digitizing it, the cost of the MAM software, and the cost of maintaining antiquated analog tape decks just to play back the tapes.


"Only the broadcaster can determine if it's worthwhile to digitize and repurpose the video stored in the basement. While they may be under-valuing those assets, they are also staring in the face of a very costly proposition--perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars--to move those assets from their physical archive to their active digital archive," says Jason Danielson, senior director, solutions, for Omneon, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Even if the broadcaster already has ample digital storage space, the process is still not free. It requires manpower and sophisticated MAM software."

For some, Danielson said, it might be prudent to keep the older analog video equipment in working order and to keep assets on their original masters. For others, it might be better to ingest these videotapes into the digital archive at once, especially if there's an immediate need for it or if production companies or broadcasters are willing to license the rights to it. Or, broadcasters can simply archive-on-demand, bringing tape-based assets into the digital archive, as they are needed.

Although Omneon does not offer its own MAM system, the Omneon Spectrum media server has a robust media API and supports industry-standard file transfer protocols to allow third-party vendors--of automation, MAM, conversion and other systems--to access and manage the server's media content.

"There are two approaches broadcasters can take: digitize legacy content into digital media files stored on a server; or leave the essence on videotape and just capture the metadata to track the contents of that tape repository. While there are many reasons to digitize a tape-based library--to search and track the content, repurpose it, stream it over the Internet, preserve it, license it to others, and more--it may not be cost-effective for every broadcast operation," said John Wadle, vice president of technology at OmniBus Systems, in Denver, Colo.

"It's difficult to say whether it's worthwhile to digitize legacy assets. It will vary depending upon the type of content. So each station must assess the potential of its own tape-based archive before incurring the expense of digitizing it," said Wadle.

Omnibus offers OPUS Content Management, a suite of software components that facilitate proxy encoding, annotation, searching, viewing and device control, as well as interfacing with enterprisewide MAM systems.


"With regards to legacy video assets, where older videotapes and machines are not falling apart, we recommend pulling that video content into your digital archive as needed. However, where tape machines are deteriorating, and users want to preserve it, there's no choice but to invest the time to digitize it into the digital file-based domain," said David Schleifer, vice president broadcast and workgroups for Avid Technology, Inc.

"To guarantee access to digital files well into the future, we highly recommend using open-standard formats, like MXF, which serves as an ideal wrapper for the essence media. Essence media can be maintained in DV, DVCPRO, MPEG, or IMX file formats, among others. HD content can be archived in DNxHD, a codec format we developed to ensure future access to HD media files," said Schleifer. Whereas most HD codecs are proprietary or optimized for a camera format, DNxHD can be downloaded from Avid's Web site ( ) to support digital files for MAM and archiving efforts.

Avid offers Media Manager, a MAM software system that is integrated within its newsroom and production systems so that MAM is handled as a background process. Media Manager automatically gathers information about each media asset being ingested into any Avid workstation.

"The biggest reason broadcasters should manage their older, tape-based media assets is that the tapes can be stored anywhere, making them difficult to locate, and it's expensive to maintain a tape-based environment. Tapes deteriorate and, and if there's only one copy, the content can be lost forever," said Sarah Foss, director of product marketing, digital asset management, Harris Corporation's Broadcast Communications division, Sunnyvale, Calif. "A digital environment prolongs the life of digital assets, and provides a more efficient way of repurposing them, for greater efficiency and cost-savings."

Implementation of Harris' Invenio MAM system at N.Y.-based Rainbow Network Communications (RNC) has improved RNC's profit margins by generating new DTV broadcasting opportunities. RNC is using the Harris Invenio tool suite to search, browse, catalog, archive and control its automation system, which maintains and updates the vital metadata associated with media files for RNC's new VOD (video-on-demand) service.

"If the goal is to increase the visibility of assets by different departments, broadcasters need to make sure staff members are keying in the metadata necessary to increase the chances of retrieval," said Foss. Harris also offers Arkemedia, another intelligent, enterprise, Web-based content management system with tools for ingest, search, browse and media management.


"We designed our MAM tool so that it would work seamlessly with existing systems within the broadcast facility--such as traffic, automation, nonlinear editing systems and video servers," said Joe French, senior vice president of sales for Masstech Group Inc., in Toronto, Ont.

Masstech's MassStore content management system was chosen by KCTS, the public television station in Seattle, Wash., to solve several problems, including making content and metadata more accessible via Windows; creating a proxy version of archived content that could be searched and edited; and interfacing with a Harris automation system, SeaChange video servers and a Sony Petasite tape archive.

"The entire ingest, archive and playout workflow was streamlined with MassStore, which tracks and manages media assets automatically and makes them readily available to the Harris automation system," said Bud Alger, engineering manager for KCTS. "Media preparation and program segmenting have been made more efficient through the use of MassStore's MassBrowse feature. And, with the automatic preparation of the proxy and the Web-based user interface, it's now easier to find content and view it at our desktops."

By automatically creating the proxy that users can browse and edit, French said, "It's not necessary to move the full-resolution master copy, which makes the workflow much more efficient."


"With respect to digitizing legacy assets, the challenge to broadcasters is whether to fully digitize their material or just computerize their indexes. Full digitization would yield the ability to visually browse during research as well as preserve the content," said Rich Stora, director of broadcast operations, for Irving, Texas-based Sundance Digital.

"If a good electronic database exists that describes the assets, then it can all be imported into the new system. Otherwise, manual transcription will be required. If they choose not to digitize the material, then they will have to rely on the accuracy of the labels on the physical media," said Stora.

Designed for broadcast, Sundance's Seeker digital workflow management system ties different departments--traffic, production, editorial and master control--together so that each knows what the other is doing, as well as the whereabouts of media assets. Seeker also "seeks out" metadata from various broadcast devices in the pipeline and integrates it into its own indexing.

"We have seen several cable channels make some hay from old, sometimes forgotten, programming," said Stora. "My advice to broadcasters is to maybe think twice about disposing of old video material, or letting it languish. If the media had value once, it often has a way of gaining value again."

Claudia Kienzle