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Video Asset Management Systems: How to Choose the Right One

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As the number of video assets has grown in all manner of organizations, so has the need to organize this content efficiently. Too often, stakeholders have a hard time finding the content they need—and when they can find it, it’s often not in the right format, or there are multiple versions with no indication of which is the final one approved for publication.

So how can an organization make sure that employees and others can access the video content they need, in the right format, and in the right version? How do you turn a library of digital files—or even video on tape—into a manageable, searchable, easily usable archive?

Online video platforms are one option, but more and more organizations are turning to asset management systems to wrangle a wide range of digital assets, including final produced content, individual production elements, and raw footage. Though these systems go by different names, their goal is the same: They provide management of digital assets over the asset’s entire lifecycle, and offer more metadata and tracking features than a typical online video platform, which emphasizes publishing.

Video asset management systems generally fall under three terms: digital asset management (DAM), media asset management (MAM), and production asset management (PAM). DAM, MAM, and PAM systems all do similar things. DAM systems come in a wide variety of flavors, and many are geared toward working with more static digital and print content. (Some don’t handle video at all.) MAM systems have more features around asset management, while PAM systems provide yet more tools for a production environment.

MAM systems and PAM systems provide a slightly broader type of functionality than do DAM systems. If you’re running a large professional video studio, PAM might work best for you. If you want to associate a lot of additional content with your archived video, or you are running a traditional television production studio, MAM may be what you need. Caveat emptor: A representative from one company says he would even change the name depending on who he was speaking to, so you may be best served by focusing on the features offered rather than getting hung up on the terminology. It all comes down to organization and access.

“Digital asset management is critical when you’re creating much more content deliberately. The system has to organize it so that people can find it,” says Sean Brown, SVP of Sonic Foundry. “Today people want to know that they can create custom metadata relationships relative to what they want.”

“Right now we have a DAM platform that’s quite well-developed and established,” says David Boyll, director, media technology solutions for Oracle Marketing Brand Creative. “It’s tightly integrated into our video hosting and publishing workflow. It also serves a self-service function within our enterprise in the areas of video, logos, icons, photography, and illustrations such as infographics.”

Simplicity is the key. “Part of our client’s scope is that they want to manage and maintain just one master file,” says Craig Bollig, senior DAM advisor for Widen Enterprises, which has a cloud-based solution called Media Collective.

We’ll start our look at asset management systems by examining how three enterprises are either using or planning to use them.

Symantec: Ease of Use Is Key

Many organizations have a DAM platform, but often those systems were designed for print and digital needs, but not rich media.

“A lot of the asset management systems out there that the rest of the organization uses won’t accept files as large as we create,” says Greg Posten, director, content strategy and storytelling and general manager for Symantec TV. Posten says Symantec uses three different DAM systems.

“All of those DAM [systems being used elsewhere at Symantec] won’t take a file bigger than about 1GB, so that’s always been an issue for us trying to find an asset management system that can work with the large files that we routinely deal with,” Posten says.

“We also wanted [it to do] things like transcoding, because when we want folks to be able to have access to those files, we don’t want them taking the big ProRes file,” Posten says. ”We use a piece of software called Cantemo. It does what we needed it to do in terms of dealing with large file formats. It was built from the ground up to deal with video so it has a very robust file format and metadata engine.”

Posten says that Symantec uses Cantemo for two purposes: first, storing edited program masters; and second, keeping track of production elements, such as opens, lower thirds, and b-roll.

“We had a whole feature list that we wanted, file size, file format, transcoding engine, ability to modify metadata, ability to save searches, and integrate eventually with our global directory services,” Posten says. “Now it’s used in the department only as our master repository. Within the next 6 months we’ll be rolling it out to the entire company or about 12,000 users. It’s all on premises.”

So why did Symantec pick Cantemo?

“One of the reasons we selected it is the learning curve is very shallow for 90 percent of what it does,” Posten says. “There are some pretty cool features that do require a little bit of experience. It has a built-in video editor [where] you can go into the web interface and find different pieces of content, trim heads and tails, and combine different pieces of assets together to create a new asset that’s all built into the system.”

Posten says the company plans to expand its use of Cantemo to other purposes.

“There are a couple of things that are on our road map that are in the product that we haven’t implemented yet,” he says. “We want to integrate Cantemo with the corporate directory infrastructure so that someone can come in and log in and use the same credentials. That ability is built into the system—we just haven’t engaged IT to go ahead and do that integration.”

Symantec has been using the video asset management system for about 2 years and is very happy with it, Posten says. However, as we’ll see later, not every story is that happy.

Microsoft Production Studios: Making a Choice

“We’re in a discovery phase,” says Travis Petershagen, digital media services manager at Microsoft Production Studios. “The key lesson I learned is to get very specific into the scenarios we want to accomplish, and then map that out and try to find tools that meet those scenarios, versus trying to find a product that the industry says does it all and mapping your workflows into it.”

Microsoft Production Studios has some technology in place, but Petershagen says there are gaps where they know a more consistent system would help efficiencies—but they don’t want to “be held hostage” by a system that limits the ways they can approach their work.

“When we start up a project, we do a lot of manual creation of project folders and file structure and the security, creating who has access to those particular shares,” Petershagen says. “It’s all just very manual activity that, it just seems obvious, shouldn’t be manual. So that’s one. Another one is not having visibility into what’s in the system at any given time because of the lack of metadata, or metadata handling.

“I may have 100 projects going through a production facility at any given time, and because there’s not a centralized system managing this, or making any order of it, it’s hard for me to tell you at any given time where a project is in the production process, what content’s being worked on in this facility, how I can access some of that if I wanted without going to find a human to tell me more about it.”

His goal? To start holding materials like scripts or storyboards, brand templates or graphic themes. That way, as the production begins, those actual production-scheduled events, such as a stage shoot or an edit or an audio post session, also start to fall into that same asset entry, so a project can easily be followed through its entire lifecycle until the project is done. “So we’re adding metadata,” Petershagen says, “and you can easily get into the system ... if you’re working on that project, and find every asset right down to talent releases for actors who might be in your video.”

Oracle: Combining Solutions

“All I have to do is walk into our media lab where we do a lot of our manual content management administration and see the piles and piles of hard drives and video tape and ask the question, ‘Do you know what’s in all this stuff?’ ” Boyll says.

“The answer is that we kind of know what’s there. We have the drives catalogued, and we know what projects are in those drives, but in terms of ‘Is there a shot of this building in this city in this company?’ No,” Boyll says. “It takes our video archivist putting down the tasks that he is doing and pulling that drive off the shelf and literally opening it up and looking in every directory or previewing the original QuickTime movies and finding the shot that’s needed. Then once the shot is found, it needs to be transferred over to our storage array that is part of our editing infrastructure.”

Oracle decided to look into using an asset management system to automate workflow and increase its video ROI. It already uses a DAM system, and it’s working well, but needs additional functionality that MAM would provide.

“We’ve done some of the math to calculate the ROI of the workflow automation and self-service components of our DAM so we can be certain that what we’re doing is in fact saving the company money,” Boyll says. “What we’re looking for is a MAM solutions. It is likely that a multiplatform multivendor solution is going to be the answer.

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