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File It! Dealing With the New Media Environment

With the rare exception of a few new high-end Sony camcorders, most of the newer acquisition platforms have been introduced with file-based recording systems.

by Wayne Cole

Companies that make these systems have focused on improving “direct-to-edit” capture. Now both cameras and shooters in the field can add metadata to content that was previously created during the ingest or logging phase. This “up-front” data usually disappeared after post-production and mastering, and a new set of data was added for “asset” (offline archive) management.

Together with file-based acquisition, increased pressure to “repurpose” content with multiple distribution channels and access modes caused a proliferation of the same content in different formats, with longer online storage times. Personnel charged with managing assets had to ensure ingested media was properly tagged to facilitate both the new online management and traditional archival management tasks. So, asset management systems grew to provide visibility and control of content during all phases of its life-cycle.


Small-scale entities primarily need simple tools to aid in finding online or offline media. Access to a small number of standard and custom metadata tags that can readily be exported to a spreadsheet or simple SQL database application will generally do the trick.

Figure 1. Square Box CatDV version 8 main screen Bright Systems Data Wrangler is a Windows-, Mac-, and Linux-compatible application that looks similar to Windows Explorer or Mac Finder. However, it can access a clip’s metadata directly while browsing files, and provide quick previews of most popular media formats. Data Wrangler also detects frame sequence files like DPX or rendered animation frames. It allows the user to manipulate sequential frame files, including copying, moving and renaming, as if they were a single clip. Its “target agnostic” design optimizes media file transfers allowing more efficient use of online media servers, hard drives and data tape drives for online/near-line storage. Of course, Data Wrangler provides special features for working with the company’s BrightDrive G2 media servers.

Square Box Systems CatDV is a mature family of scalable cross-platform media management applications. The standalone products provide the ability to create thumbnail catalogs of media with searchable file-based and custom metadata support. It can create low-res previews for an online catalog when the full res content is offline. The “slide show” and export (to web page format) features can be used as rough storyboard creation and approval tools. Moving from the “Standard” to “Professional” version and adding the CatDV MXF option expands media access from QuickTime DV, MPEG-2/4 and Windows Media files to XDCAM, P2, and Avid MXF media storage. The XML capability provides support for FinalCut media metadata extraction.


CatDV is but one example of a product line that allows the asset management tools to grow with the operational needs. Workgroup and Enterprise editions add compatibility with centralized databases for media management and multi-user access. Square Box and other developers have also addressed the need to create systems that don’t require a software developer and IT manager to set-up and operate. To do this, much of the low-level IT work has been coated with web services and easy-to-use web browseraccessible interfaces.

Open Text’s “Enterprise Content Management” (ECM) suite provides a modular approach to building a system that can manage all manner of media from e-mail to traditional film/video content, and all the marketing, management and work process documents created during a project’s life-cycle. Collecting (including ingest and transcoding), cataloging and organizing assets, search and view tools, processing for production, presentation, marketing etc., and final distribution can all be managed from within the ECM suite. It also provides APIs for enterprises that want to create their own custom applications and workflow tools, or to interface with 3rd party Open Text compatible applications.


Got a real unique media management situation? No problem. There are service providers who can analyze your needs and tailor a system to your operation. The aptly named WheresMyMedia can integrate proprietary tools with popular ingest, transcode, storage and metadata tools and standards to provide end-to-end asset and workflow management. Rhozet, Telestream, and Isilon are just some of the partners WheresMyMedia uses to implement their AMWA compliant open standard solutions. Like other enterprise level tools, it also supplies APIs for clients who want to do their own customizations.

Apace Systems is another developer that provides tools for large-scale asset and workflow management tools, and will even integrate their products with various storage solutions to provide a full-system solution. Their focus is the virtualization of the workflow so it can be controlled or executed from anywhere in the world with a Web browser and log-in permissions. Apace provides numerous applications in data management, workflow control, and project management that can be customized to specific needs.


Visual and audio analysis and recognition technology are finding their way into asset management and workflow systems. Systems that can be customized provide opportunities to add technology like the ClusterMedia Labs LiveMeans engine. It can perform “semantic” analysis of media in real-time from live feeds. Using the audio tracks, LiveMeans can perform automated speaker/singer/background music recognition and index the content according to semantic rules as speech, music, ad jingle and more. ClusterMedia Labs has tested its application not only with broadcasters, but with “public” users like European parliaments and NASA. Their technology is in its infancy, but has the potential to expand beyond use by content producers and asset managers to Web search users.

SnapStream, which recently unveiled “the world’s largest DVR,” provides a turnkey system that can record and index 50 channels of live input at once by monitoring the input streams’ closed-caption tracks. Of use mainly to broadcasters, it has become an indispensable tool of the “News Wars”—FOX and MSNBC use it to find those embarrassing clips of their rivals and political targets.


…Then you need it! Data that is unknown might just as well not exist. So unless you delete all work product at the end of a project, you need something to organize and track it. A detailed analysis of your operation’s end-to-end workflow should identify the features you need in an asset management system. Once you’ve identified your requirements, it is a matter of sorting through the hundreds of tools, systems and service providers to find the best match for your need and budget.