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WGBH-TV Rolls Out Digital Asset System

Nov 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

PBS flagship station WGBH-TV in Boston unveiled a digital asset management center earlier this month that is designed to serve as a test lab for the television industry.
The multimillion-dollar facility is also critical to the future of WGBH because it will allow the station to “morph into a digital library” and share resources across its many different businesses, said David Liroff, VP and chief technology officer at WGBH. “We think this is essential to the future of public broadcasting,” he said.
The new center will change the way WGBH uses and reuses content for its various businesses, including the Web, home videos, DVDs, education outreach and books, as well as TV. WGBH and lead technology partner Sun Microsystems also intend to allow other broadcasters and content companies to kick the tires at the so-called “iforce center” and take the technology for a test drive before buying.
Digital asset management is an area of increasing importance as media companies grapple with how to repurpose and share content efficiently. The goal behind digital asset management is to make content easier to search, retrieve and share.
WGBH’s need for the system became apparent in the days following Sept. 11, when “Frontline” produced several documentaries.
The staff needed to assemble footage from archives and previous documentaries about al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, a process in which “Frontline” staff requested 1,500 items from the archives over two months, requiring more than 625 hours of research to retrieve the material. Much of that process relied on the memories of producers who had been with the show more than 20 years and were able to act as detectives to locate the footage.
It quickly became clear to WGBH, which produces nearly a third of PBS’s prime-time lineup, that an asset management system was critical.
“Frontline” became the first department at WGBH to roll out the system, which will be introduced to all departments during the next 12 months.
“Frontline” is still getting used to the new tools, but executive producer David Fanning said he expects the new system to have a profound impact.
“People use what’s in front of them,” he said. “When you can dip back into the archives quickly … it will have a real effect on the work we do.”
WGBH and Sun have worked on the prototype lab for two years. While all the equipment was donated by various vendors, WGBH has invested countless man-hours.
With 1,000 employees across several business divisions, the system should create “an extraordinary increase in how people access content and reuse it in the organization,” said Dave MacCarn, chief technologist and asset architect at WGBH.
The content management system is based on a reference architecture from Sun that serves as a blueprint for an asset management platform. The reference architecture was developed between WGBH and Sun, along with Artesia Technologies and Sony Electronics. The asset management system includes technology from other vendors such as Apple, Grass Valley, Harris Automation Solutions, Telestream and Virage.
More such digital asset management labs will be built in the next few years, said Richard Eberhart, executive director of the Global Society for Asset Management. ESPN plans to introduce a new 120,000-square-foot digital center in March, and digital asset management will be a key component of the center.
ESPN will use BBC Technology’s Colledia system to manage and distribute the more than 100,000 hours of video that the sports programmer takes in each year.
ESPN will begin a test next year of the asset management system, with a formal rollout slated for the summer or fall.
ESPN won’t digitize all of its archives but will digitize material as it’s requested. Scripps Networks began the rollout of a content management system across its four networks this fall. And ABC News and MSNBC are relying on a solution from Savvis Communications and Hewlett-Packard to manage and store news content.