The MAM roundtable at this year’s BVE revealed problems surrounding the emerging technology that still need to be addressed. Jane Bainbridge reports.

Broadcasters are increasingly comfortable with the idea of media asset management (MAM) systems but there are still a host of practical and technical problems to overcome.

From the lack of industry-wide standards to the shear volume of content being managed, the industry needs to find new and more efficient ways of looking after, and working with, its assets. Only then will it be able to fully monetise them.

Is the challenge of MAM a technology one or a people one?

Adrian Scott It’s both. The technology challenge is that somehow everyone has to start playing on a level playing field. Also, if it is going to work properly, MAM has not just to store stuff but also to be able to exchange it internally and between enterprises. Maybe this is over-ambitious; the MXF (material exchange format) specification is 1,000 pages or more.

Chris Anning MXF sounds lovely but from a practical implementation perspective,
when you’ve got a whole variety of service suppliers plus our own kit, it’s a bit of a nightmare. You end up taking a pragmatic view where you use a proprietary standard or a standard for one particular supplier because you know that will work and it doesn’t need all the tweaking.

But we can make technology work - it’s the people challenge that gets me, because there are a lot of people who have grown up with a particular function and don’t like change. You need really high business buy-in at CEO level to drive that change through.

Daniel Pell We often see huge teams working on a project - including marketers, compliance and legal - that try to thrash through the arguments for and against a business case and a technical solution, but they never make any real progress and the project gets bigger. We recommend starting small, with something that’s identifiable, and looking at the workflow and ironing out the technical difficulties as you go.

AS We’ve seen so many times where someone asks every department what they want and it all goes in the spec. It needs someone to say ‘no, we want to keep this doable, so limit what we ask for’. Our job is to articulate simply our business problem and get the hearts and minds of the people involved. Don’t turn your staff into technology victims.

Steven Samwell We’ve deployed two or three MAM systems over the years and they’ve all been problematic to some extent. The success seems to come when 90% of the time is spent on the planning and 10% on implementation. You have to evaluate your workflow up front and decide on sticking with it or changing it, because buying a product and trying to change it fundamentally to match your requirements is incredibly difficult. If you’re willing to compromise, the outcome will be more successful.

How do you avoid replicating the old workflow in the digital world?

Andy Beale Very difficult, and I don’t know if we’ve managed it. Dealing with tape was easier and there’s also the realisation that you might need to employ more staff now, not less.

Darren Woolfson MAM is for the greater good; companies do it because of a desire to have better systems to aid the company operation or the experience their customer has. But the reality is that for a lot of people, their job is made more difficult or it takes longer - in that case, it’s a people issue.

AS If you turn your people into technology victims, then you get workarounds. Dayshift staff will find a different way of using it to the nightshift and you end up with chaos. I’d say 50% of budget is buying the stuff and 50% is training people how to use it properly.

Cathy Pank If the technology works and you’re filming on the right format, it’s a people issue; if there’s one thing wrong in your workflow, it’s a technical issue.

Is it possible to have an enterprise system that does everything?

CP We’ve effectively got two: one that works and one that works around it, but the end point is still the same.

Daniel Sassen File-based has not really saved money. The shoot ratio has gone up. Instead of coming to us for a documentary with 50 to 80 hours of footage, they’ll come with 150 to 200 hours, so then we have to put in asset management systems to help them manage so much footage.

Education and communication is key, so we’re educating clients in how to manage their data and what formats are best to shoot on for broadcast standards. The commercial clients love the latest technology; luckily for us, they come in with five to 10 hours so we get to test those workflows with our short-form clients and work out what will work best for our long-form clients by the time they bring in 100s or 1,000s of hours.

Marcin Hoszowski My concern is we get to a point where we’re saying tape is better than files. It’s only with files that our business is economic to run. We have two problems: we are delivering about 300 hours each year, and dealing with millions of different formats we can’t really control. Another issue is the shooting ratio - some producers are over-delivering at 50:1 or more.

AB I’ve noticed a culture shift in the past 12 years, especially among the influx of young people from college. The only thing they know is to chuck it all in and sort it out in post-production.

DW People used to prepare for their edits. Producers looked through their rushes, they’d make notes, come and sit in the edit suite and you’d edit it together. The really important thing is when editing linear it’s a real pain to drop a shot back in the middle later, you’ve got to lay everything on the tape and back on again.”

What type of metadata is important to the sales model?

AS We have to think how people will look for this in five years’ time, and it’s impossible.

SS We’ve done VoD prep services for a company. The audio and video isn’t the complicated bit, it’s the metadata. We would normally produce 10 to 15 fields of metadata in traditional time code; for VoD, it is 300 metadata fields. The metadata is the client’s content, the audio and visual is on the back of it, because they are monetising the metadata to print and publishing.

DW The true challenge here is you have no way of knowing where the asset’s value will lie because it may be an unrelated event in the world that gives it some value. So you need systems that can trawl through material and automatically create metadata.

How do you sell the benefits of adding metadata to the person adding the metadata?

DW You can employ people who have an interest in the archive library or assets. If they enjoy the material, there’s a better chance that they do a better job. We vary the job: they do scanning, tag with metadata and see the process through from beginning to end.

AS I’ve seen where people doing the tagging also spend time in production and edit suites so they understand how their work is used. People at each stage of the workflow understand how they fit in and why they are doing what they are doing.

MH Creating metadata is one thing, but converting and amending metadata for us is a bigger issue because I have not found two IT operators who use the same standard.

CP We have another issue with languages. We work with the Royal Navy - it’s all English but they use a whole different set of words. For example, someone was looking for food footage and nothing was coming up because we had to search under ‘mess’. So we have to allow our system to be searchable by civilians and people in the navy.

DS The wonderful thing about all of this is that it will keep us all in a job.

Roundtable panel

  • Will Strauss, Chair and freelance journalist
  • Cathy Pank, Head of technology, CTN
  • Daniel Sassen, Head of technical operations, Envy Post Production
  • Marcin Hoszowski, CTO and head of content production, Wedding TV
  • Ant Allin, Co-owner, Silversun Media Group
  • Andy Beale, Head of engineering, BT Tower, Production Centre
  • Chris Anning Chief technology officer, Channel 5
  • Steven Samwell Director of technology, Ascent Media
  • Darren Woolfson Group director of technology, Pinewood Studios
  • Adrian Scott Director, Media Asset Capital
  • Daniel Pell Enterprise sales manager, UK, Ireland and Benelux, Avid