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Understanding Media Asset Management

If your business relies on content of any type, video or otherwise, Media Asset Management (MAM) systems have probably been on your radar screen for a while. Using streaming media and related digital video technologies, a MAM system can index your video, organize long tapes into scenes or clips, create thumbnail images and keyframes, and generate streaming video preview files (often called "proxies" in the television industry). A MAM system will allow librarians and archivists to enter information (metadata) about the content, organize the content, and ingest the content into a system. The result is that producers, video directors, content creators (or anyone else) can search and preview video without spending countless hours previewing videotape—a huge time and money saver.

Media Asset Management goes by a number of names including Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Digital Media Management Systems (DMMS), and though partisans and pundits will split hairs over these terms until they are blue in the face, there is essentially no difference—pick whichever one you like best.

Whichever term you choose, this technology is an outgrowth of the more general Knowledge Management category of software and systems. Within the Media Asset Management space, there are large enterprise systems designed primarily for print publishing, archive management systems to help organize immense collections, and even hybrid content management/ asset management systems that can be used to manage video and images across the Web, television, and other media. Because video and audio are time-based media, managing them is very different than, say, managing photos and layouts for a magazine.

Dedicated MAM systems that manage large volumes of video became high priority for large content-centric companies in the mid-1990s. Back then, big entertainment content companies like Discovery Communications, National Geographic, and CNN were just beginning the first phases of deployment of their MAM systems. These multimillion dollar custom systems were designed to solve the common problems of (warning: 1990s buzz-phrases ahead) improving business processes, streamlining workflow, and repurposing valuable content.

Probably the biggest thing motivating these companies at the time was the fact that cable television, in general, had begun to gain larger audiences. This had, in turn, led some of the largest media companies to launch new cable channels (Discovery Channel, National Geographic, CNN Financial Network, Headline News, etc.). This created a huge problem—how to fill all that cable airtime with programming. Having thousands of hours of archival content at their disposal, the quickest, cheapest approach was to use what they already had. In these scenarios, even very expensive MAM systems make perfect sense and provide a near-term ROI.

We should all probably thank these deep-pocketed early adopters for blazing a trail that other people can now follow with much more ease and less expense. Today’s best MAM systems can provide easy access to valuable archived content from a Web-browser interface. With the assistance of integration tools like XML and SOAP, customizing a MAM to fit your particular environment is more cost-effective that ever. But keep in mind, you will need customization. Commercially available MAM software generally follows the 80/20 rule—80% of what you need is there; the remaining 20% needs to be developed. Since every organization’s needs, business processes, and workflow are different, there is no possible way to build an out-of-the-box system that will suit everyone’s needs. When planning a MAM system, figure on spending at least as much on integration and custom development as you spend on the software licenses.

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