The business view of asset management

Thursday, March 21, 2013

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“Without knowing the cost of, say, adding support for live streaming to Windows phones, how can we know if it will return a profit? Will it help us to monetise content, or will it just add cost, which we would prefer to reduce?”
What does ERP have to do with managing digital media content? So many articles in magazines like this take as their basic premise the fact that the media business is in a state of change. Yet few take this change right back to its heart. Mark Darlow, Product Manager for Harris Broadcast, believes we are in a dramatic shift in behaviour which will force broadcasters to consider taking a leaf from the traditional Enterprise Resource Planning mind-set.

For most of the history of television, technology was such that audiences accepted what was delivered to them.. They had no choice. With the VCR, and later with the PVR, they could timeshift viewing, but that was the limit of the consumer’s control.

That is no longer the case; the consumer is now firmly in charge. First, there is the capability to deliver many more channels to the consumer over any of the conventional “broadcast” platforms. That means more chances to catch up with programmes – through +1 channels and the like – and more opportunities to acquire content through routes which are not traditional broadcast.

Connected televisions mean OTT video on demand services can now be accessed on the big screen in the living room, retaining the shared family viewing experience without the constraints of watching what the broadcaster chooses to show at that moment. Content can be found and watched on computers, tablets and smartphones.

Services like Netflix and iTunes mean that the search and discovery can be done on a tablet but with the programme seen on the “television” screen. Programmes shown on broadcast channels may have companion apps which add value for viewers who also have tablets or smartphones in their hands while they watch.

But while these seismic changes are going on at the consumer end, we must always remember that content is king. The ability to create compelling new content, or to exploit existing popular content, rests with the production companies and broadcasters. That is a strong position for them – but they have to find a way of serving this complex new market cost-effectively.

Enterprise wide content management

The goal for the broadcaster is, ultimately, to make money, so new delivery options must be seen as an opportunity. The ability to add new channels and new territories, as well as deliver to new platforms, should equate to new sources of revenue. But adding these new outputs at a time when there is widespread pressure to drive cost out of the business is not a simple matter.

The solution, I suggest, is to bring these two strands together: the move away from traditional broadcast practices and the need to manage costs to ensure profitability. Now is the time to take an enterprise-wide approach to asset management.

The phrase “asset management” has become common in the media industry, without perhaps people thinking too much about what the words mean.

Content – programmes, raw footage, audio, graphics, related data – are the “assets” of the media business. It is where the value of the company lies. The company will be successful if it exploits those assets in every way possible.

That means “managing” them, in the sense of getting the best possible return out of each asset, by exploiting them whenever possible, and by offering them to as many consumers as possible. While “asset management” may have come into our industry as a means of keeping track of where file-based content is stored, we now have to make it work much harder.

At the commercial level in any large organisation today they will talk about enterprise resource planning or ERP. This gives a unified consistent view of the whole of a business, from manufacturing and the supply chain through finance and accounting to customer relationship management and sales support. The unified view means that managers can tell at a glance the state of the business, where there are pinch points in workflows, and perhaps most important, what each process costs.

That has to be the role of asset management in media companies today. We have to use it to drive workflows through the business, and it has to help us understand where the pinch points are and what the cost implications are. Without knowing the cost of, say, adding support for live streaming to Windows phones, how can we know if it will return a profit? Will it help us to monetise content, or will it just add cost which we would prefer to reduce?

The good news is that technology is once more on our side. Within a file-based architecture the scope for automating workflows, using intelligent processing, is great. Indeed, it is the only way to cope with the scale of the challenge.

A producer today might be delivering programmes to broadcasters around the world. Rather than treat each as a special case, handled manually, it makes sense to create a single workflow, delivering to each from the master file.

A template is created for each customer. That will include the video resolution and frame rate, and the number of audio channels. If the content is going to a broadcaster overseas, does it need to be supplied with just a music and effects track because it will be dubbed locally, or is the dubbed soundtrack available in the asset management system and just needs to be attached?

Is it to be supplied with closed captions, audio description and signing? When can a programme be delivered – immediately on completion or at a specific time? How does the file need to be wrapped? Will it be delivered by Signiant or Aspera?

All these details and more are in the master template. It then becomes a simple business process: make the sale of the programme, and add this template to the delivery workflow processor.

Metadata

The same applies to online content delivery. Adding a new profile – a combination of wrapper, resolution, codec, metadata, markers for dynamic advertising insertion or content replacement, digital rights management, geo-blocking, watermarking and more – is a relatively simple exercise in selecting the right options from a list. Once the profile is defined, it can be activated for any content at any time.

These are just two examples of the ways in which workflows can be largely automated. Success can reported back into the financial and management layer, so you can see where there were problems, where capacity is restricting the ability to deliver, and where investment in additional hardware may be necessary.

Most important, systems like this can be implemented today, and indeed are. They require a change of viewpoint, certainly, because we are defining our workflows by what we want to achieve as a business, not by what the technology allows us to do.

Harris Invenio Motion is one example; it approaches media asset management as a holistic workflow that integrates people, applications and devices. Essentially, media asset management today has to be more than a simple, technology-driven workflow engine. It needs to integrate many functions to track, manage and execute workflow activities – and quantify the business value of every task across the workflow.

The ultimate solution is in the service-oriented architecture, in which each piece of technology talks to a common enterprise service bus, passing on instructions and information to create complex and collaborative workflows.

New initiatives like FIMS – the framework for interoperability of media services – are important in setting out how different processes should talk to a common enterprise bus, which will allow broadcasters to build their own systems picking the individual devices which represent the best functionality and value in their specific environment. Already broadcasters are using FIMS to slash the development time in adding new services and profiles.

And central to it all is good metadata. The metadata schema will extend beyond your own systems, with the first data entered even before the content exists. The richer the metadata the more you will do with your content.

Starting the journey

In this short article I have only been able to touch on a few of the areas in which a new, and much broader, approach to asset management, will transform the industry. Each media business is different. But in today’s media economy they all depend upon making the best of the technical and media assets at their disposal, and minimising costs by automating routine tasks through workflow management. The result will be the ability to continue to invest in creating compelling new content, and delivering it to audiences wherever they are, and on whatever platform they choose to watch it.

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