The Future Of Digital Asset Management

By Billy Baldwin Digital Asset Management is here...sort of. The good news? The technology promises to transform the post-production and broadcasting world into a more dynamic environment. Among the likely benefits: producers, directors, and editors will be able to research, organize, download, and edit from their laptops in remote locations; thus allowing true cross-continental collaboration and, of course, the archiving and organization of entire libraries.

The bad news? In order to get these systems universally implemented, we must first tackle the issue of improving ease of access within and outside the broadcast networks. Few of us can afford implementing a technology that does not serve much more than a content archive. It must also serve the greater business operations of companies both large and small. Serious consideration must also be made regarding the adoption of a common metadata format (such as AAF) as a major component of archived content. Once we solve these issues, broadcasters and other producers can truly take advantage of the benefits of digital asset management technology.

The Potential Of DAM

Asset management networks have the potential to bridge portable and lower-cost nonlinear systems together with more sophisticated systems like Avid's Symphony, Digidesign's Pro Tools, and graphics workstations, all in a single workflow. Imagine if producers could use their laptop systems to download from low resolution proxy servers and create their own rough cuts and/or interactive storyboards. Because the metadata in these applications crosses over to the higher resolution systems, editors will soon be able to open those sequences and link to uncompressed media instantly. In the case of a post-production house, the media could then be piped back and forth between facilities (including overseas) for a more interactive review and approval process, allowing seamless collaboration between operations. This eliminates costly satellite time, improves quality, and puts the client days ahead of overseas shipping times. Here are some other advantages of these networks:
*store, catalog, view, retrieve, and distribute media anywhere at any time from a secure site.
*Online Libraries And Storage: Broadcast networks, as well as larger facilities and stock footage houses could use the remote sites for their own libraries. Clients could log on and all their project research would be browser-based. One could download the material needed directly (in a low resolution for off-line), and, because the file contains the metadata, the client would batch import just the necessary high resolution material during the on-line process.
*Digital Delivery To Exhibitors/
Distributors: Satellites and other similar wireless services are fine for receiving, but fall short when it comes to transmission. With true network connectivity, media will travel faster and at a much better quality, eliminating the need for traditional shipping. Companies such as Virage, Vsoft (videoClick), Pinnacle, Sun, Microsoft, and Leitch are separately creating SANs, LANs, and browser-based search engines; some utilizing dual stage workflow environments (where high resolution and low resolution proxy media are simultaneously encoded with shared metadata). The problem is, many of these asset management solutions are incomplete without integration into existing infrastructures and nonlinear editors. They don't share the same file format or cataloging structures nor are they taking into consideration a feasible workflow that addresses the needs of the editors and engineers that actually use the media.

If manufacturers want to truly break into the service provider business, they had better arm us with more functionality than a glorified FTP site. A full service provider would offer a turnkey, secure, scalable broadband, peer-to-peer wide area network. Additional services should include a remote site, archiving (temporary as well as library), research, and even rendering. If anything, the evidence of asset management's vast potential is already out there. Currently, this type of robust media management caters primarily to broadcast news and other organizations with large amounts of data being stored on central servers for daily use and quick turnover. Now, in the post-production environment, producers of long-form programming have taken to the technology. For example, PostWorks recently collaborated with ESPN on its 2001 Winter X Games, feeding live cuts directly into servers that editors worked from, to create a "semi-live" event. Producers for such programs have the capabilities to organize themselves in a browser-based environment before even entering the editing suite. VH1 implemented similar technology for its VH1 Presents The Eighties series. Ninety percent of the show consisted of footage from the network's vast archives.

Using Avid's Media Manager server, all that material was easily tracked and cataloged. But in order for digital asset management technology to spread outside of the walls of the post house and benefit other producers of media, interoperability must become a reality. The need for a secure, high-capacity broadband wide area network is imperative to the success of the convergence of broadcast and broadband. Some companies are taking steps in this direction. If more companies follow in their tracks, we may be getting somewhere.