Cloud MAM systems

Most broadcasters think about cloud computing’s promise for the media and entertainment industry in the context of expediting global production among teams of freelancers — for instance, accessing content for preview prior to broadcast from a tablet computer or mobile phone. As cloud computing implementations change our perspective of technical infrastructures, we are now witnessing the evolution of media asset management systems that serve the broadcast workflow.

The changes brought about by cloud computing highlight the limitations of traditional on-premises media asset management (MAM) in today’s time-constrained, instant gratification business environment — and show that new MAM functionality and capacity can be introduced into the business with notably lower operating costs, while avoiding capital expenses.

Web-enabling is not cloud-enabling

It’s time to set the record straight: The cloud is not a revolution in media asset management. It is an evolution in the way people access and store their data, allowing more flexibility, leading to lower costs. This is made possible by leveraging innovations in software security, faster networks and scalable storage.

The cloud is not a bolt-on fix. Web-enabling media assets interjects changes technologically, culturally and operationally. Philosophically embracing distributed work teams and new ways of accessing media is an attitudinal change that must be recognized and appreciated.

The cloud is not a technology thing. It’s a people thing. At the heart of it, it’s about enabling people to finish their work faster, from wherever they are, in a world where getting content to air quickly is always paramount.

For the purposes of definition, it’s also important to clarify that Web-enabling a MAM is not the same as cloud-enabling a MAM. Web-enabling an on-premises system means making an asset accessible via a regular Web browser, so that no custom software needs to be installed. Web-enabling a MAM allows the broadcast engineer to have local access to the data without having to install another piece of software on the accessing client computer, although it still requires more considerable operating expense.

In contrast, cloud-enabling the MAM system removes the reliance on local engineers to ensure that the spinning disks are online and accessible, validating user credentials and permissions to access the media, while removing maintenance and upgrade costs from the operating budget, saving time and money.

Limits of traditional MAMs

A brief review of why broadcasting leaders are re-evaluating their MAMs in light of cloud computing is helpful. Traditional MAMs debuted at a time when all computing resources were located on-premises and the concept of file-based workflows was new. Video LANs (VLANs) connected traffic systems, computers, switchers to the decks and media store. Broadcasters found teams were creating stories and leaving multiple copies of video assets strewn throughout the organization on hard drives, tape decks, PCs, etc. Centralizing storage, indexing the content and limiting access were required to inventory and keep track of what was available in the facility. MAMs saved tremendous duplication of effort and made it so that the broadcast group finally could organize its assets, locate previously lost footage and be more efficient going to air.

The limits of traditional on-premises MAMs, however, are notable:

  • On-premises MAMs were costly to acquire, implement and maintain, considering capital expenses, operating and maintenance costs, and ancillary costs such as power, heating/cooling and floor space.
  • Companies often inherited multiple MAMs, either through siloed departmental purchases or via mergers and acquisitions, which created other logistical issues around ensuring compatibility of disparate systems.
  • Cumbersome workarounds, such as VPNs and firewall perforations, were required to allow MAM access for trusted offsite employees, consultants and business partners.
  • In transitioning to file-based workflows, episodes and clips were no longer collections of different analog files and physical assets but instead became digital assets with database relationships with other types of digital files comprising documents and spreadsheets for budgets, shot lists, music tracks, etc. Not all previous MAM systems are able to handle both video and document assets.
  • With MAM functioning as a central repository of all video, still images, legal contracts, Pantone guides, etc., other departments like advertising, marketing, legal and sales are increasingly using MAM as a revenue-generating tool for their parts of the business.

An entire MAM in the cloud

Figure 1. Typical architecture for cloud-based MAM

Most on-premises MAM providers have duly noted the above and implemented some degree of “Webification” into their systems — although, again, it’s important to distinguish “Webification” from “Cloudification.” Until recently, however, it was not generally possible to place the entire MAM in the cloud. Internet access was unreliable, insecure or slow for the file sizes and volumes of professionally aired content.

Fast forward to today, in an era of Facebook, SalesForce, Amazon Web Services and other numerous cloud service providers, coupled with continually decreasing hosting, storage and bandwidth costs. Placing an entire MAM in the cloud, in a secure, managed and controllable way, is basically a riff on what is fundamentally a “website” architecture. (See Figure 1.)

Table 1. On-premises MAM compared to cloud MAM

A true cloud architecture provides a secure, hardware- and software-free, self-service, simultaneous access paradigm to common assets anywhere in the world. It takes a user-centric productivity perspective to providing access, versus the old centralized “librarian” mentality, where an asset must be locked/checked out for use. (See Table 1.) One might call it a collaborative, “parallel” access paradigm as opposed to a “limited,” “sequential” access paradigm.

Putting the MAM in the cloud makes sense for a lot of broadcast and production environments. It holds tremendous benefits in a global media market where:

  • Global content is centrally aggregated;
  • Team members are assembled from around the world;
  • Content is globally repurposed;
  • Media conglomerates are seeking global-scale content delivery capabilities and efficiencies.

Limits and promise

Established Hollywood studios and broadcasters are unlikely to put their entire MAM in the cloud, since they have already invested millions in their “local” on-premises systems and the private networks to enable accessibility. Unlike smaller businesses, they have the IT resources to maintain the systems and networks. However, even these bigger organizations with on-premises MAMs have begun to explore the cloud as a way to work smarter — augmenting certain parts of their asset stores, reducing the amount of storage they maintain and thus reducing the cost by extending part of the MAM system into the cloud for parts of their business and workflows.

The world has changed since the MAM debuted. We all want instant Web access to anything at any time. Yet amazingly, the professional video industry is one of the last to embrace this anywhere, anytime concept. We still travel to sit in an edit suite and work in big buildings rather than collaborating over great distances. Everyone knows the experience of being stuck in the office at midnight because that’s where the media is. 

If you put your workflow in the cloud — whether it’s your MAM system, a portion of your workflow or a combination thereof — your company becomes more efficient by enabling the team to work more flexibly, how they want, where they want.

Every participant in the broadcast and production chain should consider what access and mobility means to their teams, and actively evaluate features and functionality from existing equipment vendors as well as in planned purchases. Cloud enablement may be a nice option to have today, but as more broadcasters, production companies and partners in the industry deploy smarter workflows based around the cloud, it is rapidly becoming a competitive necessity.

Case study: Veria Living

Veria Living, a global broadcaster with operations in New York, London, Singapore and Mumbai, India, has chosen to place its MAM in the cloud, using a private cloud implementation from Aframe. A unit of Indian media conglomerate Asia TV USA, parent to India’s Zee Enterprise Entertainment (ZEE TV), Veria Living is a health and wellness network brand based in New York, with original programming focused on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Prior to 2011, Veria did not have an asset management system. Video assets were stored throughout its diverse operations on individual hard drives, loose tapes and SANs, and it was hard to locate, take inventory or distribute anything in its archive. Today, Veria Living’s team uses the cloud-based MAM as a massive video and document library for both in-house and for external partner access for both production and ready-to-air content. Veria’s team has uploaded almost 1000 hours of video — about 30TB worth — to the cloud MAM, using it to make promo versions of its shows and share content among collaborators in New York, Singapore and India. Being Web-based allows all Veria team members around the world, both employees and trusted production and operations partners, to gain simultaneous access to the same content. It drives the creative freedom for multiple contributors to work efficiently without being locked out of the content because someone else is handling source footage since collaborators can access high-quality proxies of source footage.

The cloud-based MAM architecture employed by Veria Living centralizes the library of production and broadcast-ready video assets and supporting documentation. The assets are contained on private, service-provisioned storage arrays utilizing 2048-bit SSL encryption and overlapping layers of user-based and system-based access security measures. Assets are replicated across multiple locations in different cities and are triple-redundant. Network access and server communications take place over private networks while user file transfers and browser access occur using SSL and individualized user credentials. The system provides extensive management visibility and access control to content, as well as logging file access, commentary and other production activity performed upon the asset, with features that assist in file recovery in instances of accidental deletion.

Other Veria Living departments outside of broadcast operations, such as ad sales and marketing, also access this asset library to create sizzle reels or establish licensing rights for showcasing content to prospective buyers. Additionally, broadcast operations may pull down and queue finished content for its schedule.

For example, a U.S. computer maker placed an advertisement with Veria Living in the U.S. but also wanted it to run on Zee TV in India, while embargoing it for a later air date. Using its cloud-based MAM, Veria’s U.S. team could coordinate the movement of the footage through its ad sales network and make it available to both U.S. and Indian staffs simultaneously, thereby controlling and ensuring dates were enforced. This makes it easy to control and convenient to release the ad on a specific date as negotiated.

Unmesh Khadlikar, head of IT and broadcast operations at Veria Living, sees its cloud-based MAM as an easy-to-manage content library that facilitates content transport to other locations, programming and production approval process, as well as program and syndication sales.

Stephen Miu is Senior Director, Product Operations at Aframe.