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The heart of the workflow

12 January 2017
Paul Wilkins, TMD

Most broadcasters and media businesses are now on their second or third generation asset management system. What was once an enforced necessity – a means of keeping track of content on servers and data tapes – is now a positive asset, lying at the heart of the workflow.

Those workflows, in turn, draw together small blocks of functionality (tasks) with, where necessary, intelligent decision-making and branching based on metadata values. They can include manual as well as automated functionality.

The workflows can also be triggered by other systems, and report to them. The business management of an enterprise will be overseen by a system such as SAP: it makes sense for the media workflow layer to provide detailed reports and audit trails into the enterprise management layer. That way, the board can take decisions, and initiate new services, based on real information on how services are performing and what they cost.

Through this vertical integration the chief engineer knows that, for instance, the transcoder farm is a bottleneck; the CFO knows what impact this bottleneck is having on revenues, and what the cost of relieving it will be.

The successful platform, therefore, will require constant enrichment of the metadata. Some of this information will come from the content: in the DPP/AS11 wrapper if it is bought-in content; or as shooting data if you are in production. There are the familiar metadata categories, which are added as you process it: things like reference numbers, programme titles, precise durations, compliance edits and so on.

But you can enrich the metadata in many more ways. The idea of tagging – attaching descriptive metadata to a specific timecode – is extending beyond sport to other programme genres. Some technical metadata is generated as it is processed through internal workflows: transcoding formats, for example.

Metadata can be enriched through queries of external data sources. If you buy in a movie, you could harvest further information from websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. If you are covering a golf tournament, you could collect course statistics from the club’s website, and player rankings from the PGA.

If your application needs it, scripts can be transcribed, either by an external service or using voice to text conversion. As well as providing additional internal functionality, this continuing enrichment of the metadata can feed on to the delivery system, providing all the information needed for subscribers to discover and explore content, for instance.

It is tempting to think of metadata as a single collection of information, but in our software-defined architecture, as well as moving content between computers, there is no reason why we should not share metadata between systems. The playout software, for instance, needs a set of key information but it does not need access to all the metadata, which is why it is common to develop simple transfer protocols between asset management and playout.

Intellectual property rights management is an immensely complex subject, and its users tend to maintain very sophisticated systems to ensure they comply precisely. But some information from it is valuable to other users, and the actions of other users are vital to the rights management team. As we have already seen, audit trails could be reported to the enterprise management system.

Service-oriented, software-defined workflows are without doubt the way of the future. They provide more efficient ways of working through extensive automation, better management and more responsive customer service. The key to success is metadata.

The workflow orchestration layer is the metadata engine, which is asset management. It must interface with external systems, whether that is by secure link to the enterprise management infrastructure or harvesting information from multiple relevant websites. The asset management platform stores much of our metadata, and knows where to get the rest.

The key to getting the true benefits of the move to IT-centric broadcast and media infrastructures lies in developing new, service-oriented ways of working, allowing the organisation to determine what best suits its creative and commercial needs, freed from the limitations of fixed architectures. That cannot happen without the right metadata.

By Paul Wilkins, TMD

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