Media asset management – whoa!

During summer 2011 we had Cinegy Media Asset Management system installed in our TV-studio.

Cinegy’s marketing department definitively needs some help . The website is page after page of small print about geeky high-level technical features, a downloadable PDF brochure states that Cinegy is “An end-to-end infrastructure that can do whatever you want it to do”. Useless all together. It doesn’t say which problem it solves and what the benefits are.

See, what Cinegy does is … ingenious, and it makes file-based video production meaningful. The strange thing is that Cinegy doesn’t mention that.

For the record: I’m a Cinegy user, I’m very happy with my current job and I’m not getting any discounts – I’m just blown away by the sheer beauty of the solution.

Does this sound familiar; ingest generates zillions of files with interesting names like NF02045.MXF in an equally well named folder /20110830SESSSION001. Then the 50 or so name plates which the designer exported as LIVE_0830_STEVE.PNG in the folder /PLATES_FROM_MARTIN. There are hundreds of sound files like SWOOSSH_FINAL_REV2_OK.WAV, as well as SWOOSSH_FINAL_REV3_OK.WAV – and which one was approved now again?

Since they are valuable assets they are duplicated across backup-servers and RAID-units on the network and begin to fill up the drives. But that is easily fixed, just add more storgae, or delete some files and folders, right? Delete the oldest files first, but since the “Drive full” error usually shows up 30 minutes before to going live… just wipe a few large folders off the drive – it’s backed up somewhere, yes?

For distribution, then, it gets worse – the preview renders, the many file formats to mobile, banners, playout and “we have an event, could we please have a high res of this.. without the final 3 minutes…” and you have to find the master and edit away and render and..

It ain’t pretty. And this is the story for an in-house TV-studio. What does..say.. BBC Worldwide think?

“At BBC Worldwide, volumes of content are rising quickly — from a current level of 74,000 hours per year of programming licensed across all platforms — and time to market is rapidly shrinking,”  says Abigail Hughes, senior VP of sales operations and digital distribution at BBC Worldwide. “To maintain optimal business performance, we want to deliver more content to all of our partners faster.”

Enter Media Asset Management – MAM for short. Or DAM, Digital Asset Management. Same same. There are a number of vendors who try to solve the mayhem described above. Many of them pair a huge storage device (NAS – Network Attached Storage ) with a database engine, and then figure out ways of getting files into and out of the system, with some kind of library-functionality in-between.

Some of them are deeply integrated with broadcast technology from a specific vendor – Avid Interplay, Grass Valley ContentShare2. Others are agnostic  – Metus, Cinegy, Vizrt. And some are Open Source such as Phraseanet.

So, what does a Media Asset management system do, basically?

1. It keeps track of things.

When a media object (Video, Audio, Graphics..) is imported to the system – ingested – it stays there. A media object can have many versions, and formats. It can be approved, archived, restricted… but the MAM will maintain and keep track of it – continually adding metadata that is.

2. It stores all media in one single place.

There is no need for local storage on editing bays or playout servers – all media objects exists only as one version, which is the right version. You can view and work with media files as low-res proxies or full throttle

3. It exports stuff to any destination in any format.

Editors need hi-res editable formats, mobile  needs low-bitrate MP4, the Online Video Platform needs a specific master for ingest to  web-flavours, the brodcast link needs a very specific MPEG-2 transport stream. The MAM will export media in the system to any format you may require at any destination.

I’ve been evaluating many systems trying to match them against our needs – and making informed guesses about where the broadcast industry is going. Since the MAM becomes the backbone of a production facility it can not easily be replaced. After a very long process we choose Cinegy.

Cinegy Desktop

Suddenly everything is structured – clip bins, rolls, projects, shows, program, sequence, document… everything in a hierarchy which can be configured according to needs.

Now we have any media object in any format at any destination as a automated process (“Watch folder”) or on request (“Job folder”)

Anything that happens in the vision mixer can be available right away in Cinegy for logging, editing and playout to any and all formats and destinations. The transcoding in Cinegy Convert  is so fast I initially though something went wrong when a job disappeared from the job queue almost instantly.

Unused media can be moved off-line to tape or other storage device based on rules and the media then cleaned from central storage.  Nice.

The ‘killer feature’ for our TV-studio is the Frame Server application. In line with Cinegy’s marketing unintuitively named Cinebridge it allows any application which can read AVI-files to access media managed by Cinegy without export or render.

We are currently configuring the system and exploring different ways of getting Cinegy to support the workflow we want. It is ridiculously complex from the system admin side, and amazingly easy to use from the user side.  Cinegy’s local agent is doing all the heavy lifting such as basic setup on our network and initial configuration of all the components.

If you’re looking for a MAM then I would recommend…

  • get  hands-on experience with a few candidates. They all do the same thing in a different way. Trade-off’s galore.
  • benchmark your network infrastructure. These systems push an incredible amount of data when everything is coming from the same storage unit. Possibly configure subnets to keep traffic in the same switch in your studio.
  • Do do a small test setup with staff from the vendor or agent. These systems are so complex that you will have to rely on their on-site support for installation and initial configuration. Your IT-team will most likely not be comfortable tinkering without extensive training.
  • You need consultants who are passionate about very geeky stuff involving a combination of networking, transfer rates, video coding and data storage technology – they are hard to find. When the servers are plugged in and the admin password set up the real job begins to configure and implement your workflow in the new infrastructure. MAM’s are just toolkits and has to be configured to your specific needs.

And the humongous BBC Worldwide, by the way, choose to work with Sony DADC for content management and distribution.

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