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

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“We deal with entertainment, sports, education, and enterprise,” says Schleifer, noting that the University of Southern California is an education client while Cisco and Microsoft are enterprise customers. “The delivery formats for a Cisco [are] much different from the delivery formats for an entertainment company.” IPV’s Booth says that a certain level of agnosticism is the way that IPV handles the decision-making to prioritize format support. “Our system is format-agnostic so it doesn’t conform data into a single format so it can be managed,” says Booth. “There are a growing number of formats that production crews work in, so we need to make sure that no matter where it’s coming from, our Curator system is managing assets in their native form, exactly how the user needs it to.”

Booth uses the example of content ingestion from different cameras, each with a different acquisition format, aspect ratio, or even a different codec. “Each [camera] has its own structure for how it saves video rushes and associated metadata. Content is ingested into our system and the file structure and metadata remains completely intact.”

Beyond the questions about interoperable formats—part of which we will cover next month in an article on the interoperable master format, an emerging “universal” format—there’s the question of how to handle exotic formats beyond 4K.

“The move from SD to HD was incremental,” says Primestream’s Schleifer. “People would show a bit of HD on their website. But the change to vertical formats or rectangular for virtual reality video has pushed the boundaries, including spatial markers to prompt the viewer to look in a particular direction at a particular time.”

“Working in a 360° space poses new challenges for storytellers,” Schleifer said in a late-2016 press release. “We are all trying to figure out how to move a viewer though a 360° space.”

Simian’s Atton notes similar challenges for its MAM users. “The single biggest challenge for 360o and VR [virtual reality video] is that they don’t play natively and require special players and supporting software,” says Atton, noting two big challenges for this type of content: bandwidth and device limitations.

“The problem faced with streaming 360o over the web,” Atton says, “is the reality that most PCs and Macs don’t have the processing power to handle VR, and current internet connections can’t handle streaming it either, which degrades quality and experience, thus lessening demand for 360o/VR.”

Atton says this even manifests itself in more mundane ways. “Since we are a cloud-based system, browser capabilities determine which formats are playable on the web. To support the always-changing file types and browser capabilities, Simian users are able to upload and deliver any file type, but if it is not supported, we create a viewable proxy.”

IPV’s Booth says that agnosticism is even more important when it comes to new formats.

“Obviously, VR and 360° video presents a number of unique challenges as it is an interactive format rather than simply ‘leaning back’ and watching the content,” says Booth. “With 360° video, you are only ever seeing a section at a given time, and with VR you are immersed in the content. But our philosophy remains to be content-agnostic no matter what the format is.”

Primestream’s Schleifer noted that not all parts of a 360° video are created equal.

“Often, a specific part of the 360° content might be the only area of interest,” says Schleifer. “With spatial markers, professionals can now create focus points within the VR/360 media with metadata descriptions or keywords to easily find the area of interest.” He says this not only helps with the workflow—pushing the project through the creative process, using modern tools—but also helps with finding the value in assets after they have been archived.

Collaborating to Profit

Both the Primestream and Simian solutions are built around collaboration.

“The idea of modern MAMs is to allow collaboration,” says Schleifer, noting the Primestream systems allow collaboration “between someone in the enterprise and an external user (such as a for-hire editor) for project work that includes the EDL, raw clips, approval process, and final deliverable.”

Simian’s Atton says the collaboration goes beyond the content creation phase, and points to previously limited options for presenting and selling content.

“Formerly with 360°/VR, companies had to rely on YouTube to sell their work, share video, and collaborate,” says Atton, “because DAM/MAMs did not support the format. YouTube does not allow comments or annotating on the video, so you couldn’t show clients exactly what you want to.”

Atton says that the complexity of this content adds to the challenge: “You have many coordinates within a single 360° frame, so the Simian solution needed to accurately timestamp comments and annotations within the exact coordinates of a frame, pinpointing feedback and thereby ensuring that teams and clients are consistently on the same page. As a result, we give our customers access to a professional solution that includes all of the sharing and collaboration capabilities for 360°/VR that companies expect and need from their platform.”

IPV focuses part of its collaboration efforts on the user experience (UX) to make the solution approachable to any DAM or MAM user. “Creating a good UX is one of the most important elements of a MAM that some systems just don’t do,” says Booth, noting that each of us, as consumers, interact with well-designed interfaces all day.

“We’re used to being able to perform lots of actions in very few steps,” says Booth. “This should translate to the systems we use in production workflows. A good MAM has this kind of simple operability so it’s not just archivists and technicians that can use it, but also journalists and editors.”

What’s Next?

Given the cloud-based nature of today’s DAM and MAM solutions, one area that Simian’s Atton warns about is the balkanization of media assets from more traditional web-centric content.

“On the horizon, the threat of the end of Net Neutrality brings the potential for internet providers to slow internet speeds or charge more money,” says Atton. “When it comes to video and cloud storage, if internet providers give priority to one (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, etc.) or the other, it’s going to affect users’ connection to cloud-based platforms, as well as delivery.”

Integration with other media processing systems is a key part of the Primestream approach for the future.

“One enhancement we provide is passing enough metadata with the asset through to the media processing solution so that it knows what to do based on predefined scripts or automation,” says Schleifer. “It’s no longer just ‘here’s a clip,’ but ‘here’s a clip that needs to be run through this profile and deliver it to this particular publishing point’.”

Schleifer notes that some metadata points can be workflow-centric ones, such as status, but the end goal is to eliminate the need for someone to think about what happens when they’re done with the content creation portion. If that’s the case, then today’s DAM and MAM solutions will have moved beyond not just format limitations, but also workflow barriers.

[This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "MAM and DAM Evolve Into the Cloud."]

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