Managing Assets Crucial as Content Demands Grow

Apr 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Turner Broadcasting has been a pioneer in cellphone content, dispatching video from CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and even TCM to Verizon, Sprint, Cingular and Amp’d Mobile cellular services.

The media company has been able to test-drive this new third-screen opportunity in so many places in part because it implemented an in-house asset management system three years ago. That system-which Clyde Smith, senior VP of broadcast engineering at Turner, oversees-is now proving quite handy for the video that is increasingly being used in multiple ways and reworked for multiple distribution outlets.

In fact, the rapid changes wrought in the TV business over the past several months as content has been unleashed across cellphones, broadband, video-on-demand, iTunes and other new platforms has underscored the need for storage and systems to manage and the vast mounts of video coming into and going out of content providers.

“With cellphones there is not a significant revenue stream associated with it, and it will be a long time in coming, so you need an efficient operating model to provide these services,” Mr. Smith said. The company’s existing asset management system, referred to internally as a broadcast inventory management system, made it feasible for Turner to get involved early in as many trials as possible at a small expense, he said.

Earlier this decade, media companies had a harder time justifying the millions of dollars they usually need to invest in an asset management system. Now, however, asset management is becoming a must-have as media companies grapple with the new business imperative to reuse the content that lands daily at their doorsteps and the video in their tape libraries.

“In an environment where people want to access anything, anytime, anywhere they want, on any device, videotape does not play a role. It has to be a file-based system,” Mr. Smith said.

Such a system allows a media company to participate in all the new forms of distribution consumers are demanding. Rather than pulling old videotape from the shelves of a library, producers can easily access and manipulate content for different outlets when it’s wrapped into a neat and tidy digital format in an asset management system.

Warner Bros. is developing what it calls an “end-to-end digital distribution system,” said Darcy Antonellis, senior VP for worldwide anti-piracy operations and executive VP for distribution and technology operations at Warner Bros. Entertainment.

“We need to be able to really access and format our content for those platforms,” Ms. Antonellis said. “That growth has just really hit and is starting to hit its stride. … [In the past] we had to consider more traditional outlets like theatricals and converting what originated on film to a video medium for home video and subsequently for television. [Now it all] has to be converted with all the proper information and metadata to make it easily accessible online as well as portable and transportable into devices.”

Going Automatic

For now, many of these processes are still manual, but they are slowly becoming automated. The new challenge of multipurposing is particularly daunting because content providers are simultaneously transitioning to digital systems and experimenting with new businesses. But asset management and storage systems are smoothing the path to the digital future.

“The better you are at moving digital media around, the better you are at being able to handle different release windows,” Ms. Antonellis said.

Lifetime recently opened a digital operations center in New York, using an asset management system from Venaca that allows the network to easily access and repurpose content for new platforms such as broadband video.

The cost of storage, which is one component of an asset management system, has dropped about 60 percent over the last three years, said Venaca VP of sales Eric Bolton.

“It’s less onerous to get in the game, and there are more ways to sell content,” he said. Also, the company is selling more storage today. “Today’s biggest deal is 25 times bigger than three years ago.”

To make this transition to a digital world order, content providers often need to convert old videotapes to digital formats. That’s where a company like Broadway Video Entertainment, the Lorne Michaels-owned post-production facility in New York, comes into play. Broadway Video launched a new division last year to convert tape into digital files. That group is converting archives for the U.S. Tennis Association and also encodes content for Showtime and VOD network Music Choice, said Mark Yates, president of the video services group at Broadway Video.

“What is driving this is digital opportunities coming up on cellphones, VOD, streaming. The material stored in vaults on videotape is not ready to be repurposed yet, so it has to go into a digital file first,” he said. Since its launch, business at the new division has grown to 3,000 hours per month.

Enhanced Storytelling

Better asset management doesn’t only help companies serve up video for new venues. It can also help them produce better content on TV. ESPN digitizes incoming footage and is developing plans to digitize its archives. When that transition begins, it will allow for quick and easy access to old footage, said Kenneth Boudreau, senior director of media assets and duplication services at ESPN.

“The collections we have amassed over the last 26%BD; years have great value, and it’s my goal and it’s for the benefit of the company to make sure we continue to retain that,” Mr. Boudreau said. “This will enhance our storytelling and better serve the fan. Our group always hopes that when the fan watches ‘SportsCenter’ they don’t see the same footage used by other networks, and in the back of their mind they say, ‘Where did they get that?'”

While companies are moving away from videotape, they still need something physical on which to store their digital files. And if media companies do invest in the tools needed to store and better manage their assets, they also must make sure everything is religiously backed up and saved in multiple places, said Jim Hegadorn, director of technical services for Fujifilm USA, which offers high-capacity storage data tape for digital files.