CNN takes the leap into digitized archiving

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

One slam-dunk opportunity resulting from TV’s digital revolution is the ability of networks and stations to automatically organize and archive their assets. Automation streamlines the time spent retrieving and tracking programming, footage, audio and other content not only in-house but by third parties, providing significant cost savings as well as potential new revenue streams.
With that in mind, news producers ranging from ABC, CBS, NBC, the BBC and Televisa to PBS and C-SPAN, Belo’s group of TV stations and a host of sports providers (NBA, NHL, MLB, World Wrestling Federation) have recently publicized their efforts to digitize and manage their assets.
CNN won a Film Preservation Honors award from the Anthology Film Ar-chives for its $20 million effort. “It’s valuable for the history of our time-what [CNN is] doing is literally priceless,” said Robert Haller, director of collections and special projects, who oversees the Anthology Film Archives’ library and film and video collections. “Nobody else is doing this at this scale-to do it at this scale is heroic.”
CNN’s initiative began with a request for proposal in 1998. Phase 1 was officially kicked off in April 2000. The project, a joint effort with IBM and Sony, is estimated to last five to seven years. It is helmed by Gordon Castle, CNN’s senior vice president for strategic digital systems research and development. Mr. Castle spoke with Electronic Media about the scope of this endeavor.
The challenge: “What we were trying to do had never been done before-this will be more than just a digital repository for content. This will be an infrastructure and media management system that will change the way we think about and use content. The most challenging aspects are how to build a system based upon workflows that you don’t yet have-and how to pull together a lot of different pieces of technology with a strategy that guarantees that the system doesn’t fail.”
Phase Zero: “Because of those ramifications, we came to the conclusion that we had to do a Phase Zero, which we don’t count in the five to seven years (of the project’s estimated duration). A Phase Zero by definition is usually defined as a requirement-building exercise. Ours started in 1999 with Sony and IBM. It was about nine months’ worth of work.
“In that nine months we did a Use Case Analysis-a methodology for determining requirements based upon the way people interact with content, coupled with a long-range strategy. We built 1,500 requirements for the system.”
Phased-in Design: “The iterative design process allows you to put components in people’s hands to evaluate them and make changes as you further develop the system. We’re building it mindful to the fact that technology changes, people’s ideas change, our priorities change.
“We’re thinking about video as files, not as streams of material on tape. So aspects of how you manage that material, access it and pass it from one person to the other are dynamically different. The system gets fully deployed in the fall.”
Phase 1: “In April of 2000 we announced we would go ahead with the system with IBM and Sony. That began Phase 1 of the project.
“IBM built the core media production suite (media management) application. Sony provided PetaSite [storage] software, integration services and testing facilities. We now have the first release of the software. The core hardware is in place. And we’re successfully digitizing material. By the end of Phase 1, the system should have 10,000 hours of digitized material.”
Next: “The 1-inch analog tape is of questionable quality at this point. It’s been around for a while, and it’s starting to exceed its shelf life-it’s been used a lot. During the first year, we will run six ingestations on two full shifts [a dedicated staff of about 20 people]. We scale this up in Phase 2 (this fall). At our peak, we plan to run 17 ingestations.”
Hardware and software: “Other than the IBM software, everything is off the shelf-Cisco switches, Virage video logging [applications], Sony video servers, IBM processors, IBM and Sun disks.
“The breakthrough aspects are the enterprise-level approach to media management and the scale of our commitment.
“The biggest component from a hardware perspective is Sony’s PetaSite robotic storage system, which provides 20 terabytes of storage initially from two units. They’re data tape machines with about five or six transports and robotics that move the tapes around. The two factors [used in choosing this technology] were the migration path and the ability to play back videotapes as well as data tapes.”