The State of Metadata in 2011

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In early 2011, the U.S. will hear the results of the official 2010 census. It will be an awakening for some state leaders to learn that their state’s population is declining as the country’s population moves away in search of work, lower cost of living, and the like.

In the state of metadata, however, there’s no fear of the population dwindling and the lights going out. If anything, 2011 should see a spike in interest for this somewhat geeky state of mind.

Citizens of the State of Metadata

The metadata population is growing, but it has seen its share of “redistricting,” to continue with the census metaphor. Consider the acquisitions that took place in 2010. 

KIT digital, Inc., which purchased several companies in 2009 and then closed a $15 million equity offering in early March, snapped up Multicast Media Technologies for approximately $18 million. 

The deal, almost one-third of which was in cash, was billed by KIT as a way to shore up its video management solutions in the U.S. 

“KIT digital has achieved the leading market share position for enterprise-class IP video management on a global basis,” the company’s CEO, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, said at the time of the acquisition, adding that “the acquisition of Multicast now makes us the clear number one provider in North America, and strengthens our dominance in the global arena.”

The merger made more than geographic sense: Multicast had been growing its cloud transcoding platform, winning the 2009 Streaming Media Readers’ Choice Award in the Transcoding SaaS (software as a service) category. It had also been growing its metadata and tagging capabilities alongside the transcoding platform. 

Multicast’s CEO, Lou Schwartz, spoke on a panel at the 2009 Online Video Platform Summit, talking in detail about how the company’s metadata and tagging capabilities for videos delivered through its system helped raise the bar on making video more discoverable through video search engine optimization (SEO) driven by the use of metadata.

Another acquisition, late in the year, saw two metadata firms come together from seemingly opposite ends of the metadata spectrum. Digitalsmiths announced that it was acquiring Gotuit Media Corp. of Woburn, Mass. 

Both companies were finalists for the 2010 Streaming Media Readers’ Choice Award in the metadata category. But Gotuit focuses on news and sports, with the ability to do live metadata ingest and tagging, while Digitalsmiths focuses on high-end, premium content for film and episodic television.

Where’s the match in this acquisition? It comes from the fact that media conglomerates tend to own all the pieces of a media puzzle that both companies had partial solutions to: From sports teams to live news to TV shows and movies, today’s media conglomerate wants to monetize all its content across all its channels.

Unfortunately, as we explored in a September 2010 article about online video through broadcasters’ eyes, the tendency has been to keep all the content in silos. With the advent of metadata insertion, and to a greater extent, search engines for media, there’s now a 

need for solutions that will couple old, tried-and-true broadcasting solutions with new media.

Reaction to the two acquisitions fueled conjecture that 2010 may be the watershed year for metadata’s rise. I think, though, that we’re seeing just a small glimpse of how the state of metadata will swell in popularity.

Thought Equity Motion, a competitor of Gotuit in the sports arena, announced a late-2010 initiative that had teamed the company up with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to integrate play-by-play metadata into the regular season men’s basketball games from all 12 ACC member colleges and universities.

Rather than just start with the 2011 season, however, the ACC Vault, true to its name, goes back into the video archives and creates play-by-play for games dating from 1983.

“With the launch of the ACC Vault, we’re leveraging rich metadata and delivery tools to drive new sponsor value,” said Kevin Schaff, Thought Equity Motion’s CEO. “This extends the ‘life’ of the men’s basketball season to connect to fan interest year-round, including ACC Tournament Championship Games from every year since 1983.”

Schaff had reiterated the silo concept in earlier email exchanges I had with him, noting the ability of metadata to break down the silos.

“For Thought Equity Motion, metadata isn’t a silo,” he said. “Rather, it’s the foundation for an integrated storage, access, delivery, and monetization offering that’s added millions of dollars of value to our customers’ content.”

Strong words, but the company has experience on its side, having been at it since 2003 and boasting 10 million hours of content rights, more than 1 million individual assets, up to 7,000 discrete file transcode deliveries per day, and more than 200 million individual metadata entries across “multiple tracks of sports, news, entertainment, and footage assets.”

Like Multicast Media, the Thought Equity model applies “smart content” metadata to customer libraries as part of a larger video ecosystem. This brings the state of metadata story to a defining question: Can metadata companies stand on their own? The answer isn’t easy, but there seem to be a few companies that have been able to stand the test of time. 

One is Pictron, a small Silicon Valley-based company that has been around since the late 1990s, servicing news, government, and civic organizations with a live encoding and metadata synchronization platform called Media Gateway.

Over the years, Pictron has established an impressive roster of clients, many of which still have significant tape-based assets. As a result of the growing need for digitized storage of these older videotapes, and through partnerships with companies such as Omneon, Pictron has branched into tape storage asset management for its own products. 

Pictron’s Network Tape Gateway leverages the Quantum 600A or SuperLoader 3A tape drive for mass-storage capacity, yet it also integrates support for bar-code scanning of the tapes necessary to duplicate these newer tape-based storage libraries. The company chose to go toward tape backups because the folders, files, and organization hierarchy inside the tape are preserved after automated metadata capture, allowing users to enter additional metadata such as title, subject, description, category, and keywords for each video file, regardless of whether the video file was captured and indexed on the Pictron Media Gateway.

For stand-alone metadata companies, the fear factor always looms large when a partner is acquired: Omneon was acquired by Harmonic in 2010, for $274 million, and the future of the partnership between Omneon’s new parent company and Pictron is uncertain.

So what can we expect in the state of metadata for 2011? I see four key trends to watch.

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