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Maximising media assets with a state-of-the-art MAM solution

Dave Clack, CEO of Square Box Systems, looks at the importance of effective asset management

Effective media asset management (MAM) has never been more important, or a higher priority, for today’s media organisations. The demand for content of all types, created for many different delivery platforms, is creating MAM challenges on an unprecedented scale. As a result, effective management of large volumes of video assets – including the ability to find, access, and use them effectively – is top-of-mind for any high-pressure broadcast operation.

With exploding consumer demand for high-quality, engaging video content, media operators are under pressure to create content and deliver it to every popular platform and device. Most operators have woken up to the high value held by their new and existing video assets. If they can effectively leverage this material, they can save time and money by avoiding costly re-shoots and by reusing the content as b-roll footage in new productions. And in some cases, they can even develop new revenue streams by monetising existing assets.

All of this is easier said than done, of course, as content grows not just in quantity but also complexity. The emergence of higher bit rates, 4K and 8K frame rates, and technologies such as high dynamic range (HDR), along with an ever-growing array of camera formats, is placing a huge strain on storage resources. At the same time, the storage repositories themselves are also becoming more complex and difficult to manage. Object storage, and the emergence of cloud storage systems, is adding an extra layer to the storage challenge.

Most of the time, it’s not just a question of whether or not the content exists, but knowing where and how to look for it. Searching for and managing video assets can be incredibly time-consuming – taking up one hour of every 10 hours by some industry estimates. Many companies try to attack the problem with spreadsheets and conventional naming for files and folders, but it’s a real struggle, especially with cloud and object storage. Adding to the challenge are proprietary and opaque file formats that can’t be previewed easily in the operating system.

Another challenge is the decentralised nature of today’s production teams, with edit, audio, fx, and composition professionals often working from disperse locations. Even if a file is online and accessible, a team’s inability to gain a clear view of its location or status creates chaos and adds stress. And there’s usually no access for professionals who want to work with their assets while disconnected from the internet and server access, for instance, a documentary maker in the middle of an ocean or a sports logger on a plane back from a game.

Given all these challenges, how can media operations best maximize their critical assets? That’s where today’s advanced MAM software systems come in.

Choosing the right MAM solution

The market for MAM solutions is broad and crowded. On the low end are tools that are extremely easy to use and cost-effective but offer very limited capabilities; in fact, many of these are essentially Web-based spreadsheets that operate outside of the media workflow. At the other end are high-powered tools that might offer a very large array of tools and robust functionality, but have a price tag to match — and they can be difficult to learn, use, and manage.

The ideal MAM solution offers just the right balance of power and ease of use, with the flexibility to adapt to customers’ workflows. Square Box Systems’ CatDV, for instance, offers simple, yet powerful tools to support the most sophisticated media workflows and has one of the lowest costs of ownership in its sector. CatDV offers the MAM horsepower customers need without overwhelming them with tools they may never use.

Another negative for many of the high-end tools is that they can’t simply be used out of the box but require their own proxy workflow. Footage ingested in a proprietary camera format, such as RED or Sony, must be transcoded into a format that can be viewed on a desktop computer — creating undesirable workflow delays. Imagine coming in from a shoot and needing to view your content right away in order to meet a tight production schedule. The last thing you’d need is to have to take time out to transcode 50 hours of footage to make it compatible with the MAM tool.

Square Box has invested significant time and money into creating a tool that can play video content in its native format — a factor that’s unique in the MAM industry. Besides the content itself, the system is able to capture all important metadata including frame rates and bit rates, and it can automatically generate low-res proxy thumbnails that can be viewed when the actual media is offline or not playable by the operating system. On the flight home from a shoot, a user can plug a capture card into a laptop, log it into the MA, and then look at it right away to maximise time in the air.

Powerful tools for all types of organisations

Ideally, the MAM system will bring order to complexity for media organisations of all sizes, types, and geographical structures, enabling them to distribute content efficiently to a growing range of locations and multiple storage devices. A MAM solution like CatDV is able to track content and manage its movement between storage tiers as the content progresses through every stage of pre-production, production, and postproduction. The system can be deployed in either stand-alone or networked configurations with both web and hybrid interfaces, making it easy to track and view content from anywhere.

The MAM system should act as a collaboration tool by providing a shared view of status, current assets, dailies, and review comments. In order to fulfil its critical archival role, the system should offer flexible migration, import, and export tools to make it easy for media operations to store and manage historic or legacy assets. In addition, the MAM system should provide powerful version control, and its custom metadata and tagging makes it easy for individual users to configure the system according to their own needs for logging and categorising content.

Of course, security is a critical concern for any production, especially with recent and well-publicised content security breaches. The MAM system must ensure that content can be stored reliably and safely for easy recovery at a later date, with security measures extended to web access.

The democratisation of content

In summary, the best MAM solutions empower media organisations to accomplish three main goals:

· Distribute the content efficiently to a growing range of locations; e.g. networks with container standards and social media channels

· Secure the content by making sure it can be stored reliably and safely

· Reuse the content in order to unlock the potential value in production assets.

The best MAM systems enable democratisation of content creation processes; in other words, placing control of content assets and their access in the hands of the content creators themselves. It’s a far cry from traditional workflows in which content access would have been configured and managed by production engineers. With state-of-the-art MAM system, content creators have these same capabilities at their fingertips, in an easy-to-use package that saves time, lowers costs, and simplifies the access, re-use, and even monetisation of valuable content assets.