By Larry Thaler
A friend of mine asked me today what role cloud-based asset management would have in a television production workflow. I thought it was an interesting question and might be good for our first blog post.
First we need to define a couple of terms:
- Asset management systems enable production personnel to locate digital versions of their media. In a tape-based library, we needed to understand which shelf a physical asset was on. It would have a unique number and we would look it up in a card catalog or database. In the digital world, assets may have many physical locations: disk storage, digital memory, tape or back up location. We really do not care physically where it is, but we do need to be able to find it. Asset management systems do this and more. They allow us to locate media wherever it may be by searching on metadata (data about the media).
- Cloud-based services leverage the power of the internet to provide functionality without sophisticated equipment or systems at the users premises. The cloud refers to the internet. These services rely on storage, processors and software which resides on the internet in data center locations which are irrelevant to the users. The computers and storage can be leased moment to moment. They are used to power new, potentially global applications on an on-demand basis.
So with these two terms, we can see that a cloud-based asset management system would help users upload, locate and manage media wherever it may be, potentially storing the media in some far-flung place, but permitting many operations to act upon it wherever they may be.
But would this functionality benefit a real-life production facility? The answer is – it depends.
Let’s start at the very end of the media process: Distribution. Currently, there are services such as Brightcove, Livestream, Ooyala, The Platform, and others who specialize in the conversion and delivery of digital assets to multi-media platforms. That is a mouthful, but basically you provide them with your media and they convert it to the right formats and empower a website (theirs or yours) to present your finished pieces to viewers on whatever device they are using (PC, ipad, mobile phone, IPTV etc). These services leverage their own cloud-based asset management system to let you manage which media to release to which platforms and when.
Backing up the production chain to the very beginning, are there places where cloud-based asset management can help in creating content? If we shift to content gathering phase, there currently are services, which permit a producer to gather raw materials for their productions using cloud-based asset management systems. Our recent TV Stations Infrastructure report goes into detail on a number of ways cloud based services can help. Some examples include: Graphics can be obtained from services such as Chyron Axis, istockphoto, Reuters Pictures, Getty Images and others. Stock footage can be retrieved from Framepool, Footagebank and many others. All of these services are delivered via the internet and are supported by their own asset management.
Those two examples were easy. I have not spoken yet of the key production processes. The shooting, editing, and finishing process is where asset management really matters, and this is where the “it depends” part comes in. If your facility is all in one building (studios, editing, audio post, etc), or said even better, if all production work is done in-house, then there is little to benefit and may be a lot to lose by putting your media assets in the cloud. However, if there are portions of your production process, which are outsourced or contributed to by people in differing locations, then potentially there is a huge upside.
Imagine a TV media company, which does not have its own facilities. They rent studio space from one company, post using Final Cut from their home, outsource effects creation and audio finishing to other facilities and then sell and syndicate the content. Perhaps their producers, editors and sales teams are in different cities. Perhaps their content needs legal or rights review. Perhaps sharing media with sponsors is a key element. For this company, a cloud-based asset management system can free them from the pain of tracking many versions of their programs. It can eliminate the cost of transporting, versioning and storing video tapes. Most importantly, it can enable sharing of versions, remote commenting and enable a parallel production process. Audio sweetening can occur on a segment-by-segment basis as effects are being rendered and as the audio operator has time. This would not only speed the production process, but frees the content owner to partition out portions of the process to their creative community solely based upon their talent and availability, without regard for their location. It would enable the entire company to be virtual, eliminating overhead and minimizing maintenance costs.
While this visible work is going on, the processors in the cloud would automatically handle mundane background tasks like format and bit rate transcoding, data backups, versioning and distribution. Advertisements would be inserted dynamically. As speech to text tools become better, closed-captioning might be automatically generated and attached to the files.
There are some downsides to all this. Currently, web-based storage for large media files is very expensive. Production companies with a very large quantity of assets may find this prohibitive. Wide bandwidth connections are needed at all points in the production process. Lastly, all the company’s media and workflow would be tied up with a single provider. Without standards, it may be difficult to change providers or negotiate better pricing.
Going back to the original question, is there a role for cloud-based asset management systems in a television production workflow? Certainly. The solutions will play a critical role in forming the structure of media companies in the future and may represent a cost-structure and efficiency that existing media companies may find difficult to match.