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MAM and DAM Evolve Into the Cloud, Going Beyond the Basics

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For those of us who have been around since the prestreaming days, neck deep in film and videotapes while we wrestled with edit decision lists (EDLs) and three-point edits, the idea of storing a list of all these physical assets in a computer—the metadata about the media assets—was an admirable goal.

The content creation industry has traded in paper edits and EDLs in favor of maintaining EDLs and performing non-linear editing (NLE) on the same computer. But the ability to move the media asset management (MAM) online, digitizing the assets and upgrading the metadata so that the digital clip itself was searchable and easily accessible—in other words, the concept of digital asset management (DAM)—seemed akin to the Eighth Wonder of the World. “Digitize once, use often,” was a recurring sales mantra.

Yet, the maturation of MAM and DAM solutions over the past 20 years, as they expanded to include online-only content and new delivery methods—from YouTube to over-the-top (OTT) premium content delivery—has generated a bit of a conflicting growth pattern.

In some ways, growth in feature sets for DAM and MAM solutions have stagnated, in no small part due to the need by most solutions providers to put their solutions “in the cloud,” thereby virtualizing an offering that used to require multiple beefy servers—one for uploading, one for indexing content, one for search and retrieval, and so on.

The move to the cloud was driven by the solutions providers themselves, since not every customer wanted to part with the ability to buy a product for use in an on-prem solution. But there were enough greenfield cloud-based MAM customers with an aversion to capital expenditures (CapEx) to allow these MAM solutions providers to justify the move from local servers and operating systems to cloud-based nodes with specialized operating systems. In the intervening 5 or 6 years, while MAM solutions have been moving to the cloud, feature enhancements suffered at the hand of bringing basic parity between the on-prem versions and the newer cloud versions.

Now that the majority of DAM and MAM solutions offer at least a partly cloud-based option, we’re seeing a more compelling growth opportunity when it comes to features. Yet a basic shortcoming remains for those creative professionals focused on video-based content:

“Most DAMs aren’t specifically built for video professionals and their workflows,” says Brian Atton, chief operating officer and co-founder of the Simian asset management solution. “They are more generic and not video-centric, but video pros need platforms that have creative workflow in mind.”

Atton says neither on-prem nor cloud asset solutions are perfect. “Pure cloud-based DAM and MAMs run into more issues with managing large file types (upload, download, etc.) than in-house dedicated ones,” says Atton. “However, both will have delivery issues. For instance, it’s expensive to store 4K the cloud: Just a single, 30-second video can potentially eat up as much as 100, 30-second, 1080p files.”

David Schleifer, Primestream’s chief operating officer, is equally blunt: “The days of supporting only an SDI pipeline are long gone,” says Schleifer. “Today it’s about wrappers and formats. How do they wrap metadata around [the asset]? QuickTime was a nice and easy way to support a library, but now that Apple’s moved away from QuickTime we as an industry have needed to meet the challenge.”

Moving Beyond the Basics

Interoperability, one of the main byproducts of a cloud-based approach, was probably not as apparent when MAM vendors began moving to the cloud. But it turns out that other parts of the workflow were also moving to the cloud using the same node-and-specialized-OS approach, which means that the handoff between portions of the workflow becomes easier for both the content creator and the media delivery team.

Primestream’s Schleifer gives an example of this type of synergy: “A certain level of MAM is commodity—sending a file into it and retrieving it—but where the rubber meets the road is understanding formats and even automation and workflow,” he says. “The MAM is no longer just the place to find the asset. Now you want to convert the asset and deliver it in the appropriate format.”

Nigel Booth, executive vice president of business development and marketing at IPV, agrees. “Any MAM system that’s worth its salt makes it easy for users to be able to ingest and then find content,” he says. “If you can’t easily find something, you’re not able to use it and it becomes worthless. But the true value is being able to do something else above and beyond simply searching.”

“Where a system can really bring benefit to an organization is in being able to initiate a workflow in order to make vital contribution to the production or post-production process,” Booth adds.

To Booth’s point, the difference between a traditional asset management system and a video-centric DAM or MAM is the presence of a “workflow engine,” which allows users to create value from the content stored in the asset management system.

“The Primestream focus is looking at consistency in the workflow,” adds Schleifer, “so it’s not necessary to give the creative content developer ultimate flexibility all the time, as some things can be automated or scripted.”

Atton says Simian, with its pedigree in the digital marketing agency space, looks beyond the EDL and NLE needs and toward presentation and sales solutions.

“Companies have so much more on their plates than simply managing media assets, so their DAM or MAM solutions need to do more to facilitate these tasks,” says Atton. “Whether it’s sending sales presentations, delivering large files, or commenting on video, the solution should enable professionals to repurpose video the way they need to, on their terms.”

The one-stop approach that Atton advocates has a financial benefit, too. “It’s so much more cost-effective to have asset management, sales, and collaboration tools integrated into a single platform that’s both easy to use and speeds up workflows,” he says.

Tweaking for Market Verticals

Each company executive interviewed for this article said that creative professionals—and subsequent delivery approaches—require fine-tuning to address the differing needs of the creative professional’s particular market vertical.

“We can tailor to particular market verticals,” says Schleifer, noting that Primestream’s current market verticals are traditional broadcast, sports, enterprise, and education, with significant growth emerging in latter two. “Enterprise is coming of age, with various ways to stream video within an organization,” he says.

But the needs for onboarding users in education are much different than they are in enterprise.

“A good example of different needs within an organization is education, Schleifer begins. “Every time the semester starts up, there are thousands of students that need to be on-boarded, each one of which brings their own devices (BYOD), and each student expects to be able to both contribute and consume content from within the firewall and also outside the firewall.”

Simian’s Atton says addressing the needs of differing market verticals is at the core of the company he co-founded: “At Simian, priority one is to think ahead,” he says. “We constantly research and anticipate where the market is going, so we’re always ready for what’s next and able to address challenges as they arise.”

This need to think ahead applies to video professionals, too. “Video professionals need a platform that works with their creative workflow,” Atton says, “so they can focus on creating video —not working around antiquated technology.”

Booth says that IPV solutions remain constant throughout the market vertical, thanks to its philosophy of content-agnosticism.

“NASA uses our Curator system with FLIR cameras to capture images with incredibly high dynamic range,” says Booth, “at thousands of frames per second and using thermal imaging. They generate assets of huge file sizes but can create proxies of those with ease so they can more easily manage content and use it throughout multiple video processes. They use the system to manage all of their content without needing to modify the original in any way.”

Simian’s Afton agrees on the need for workflow enhancements, noting that video professionals need solutions that “are both scalable and include API hooks that work with their specific internal processes.”

Formats and the Future

The concept of appropriate formats is key to understanding how MAM solutions are evolving. 

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