SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: From VHS tape libraries with simplistic, but bespoke, in-house cataloguing systems, to digital archives and more comprehensive, but uniform, search and retrieval capabilities, advances in technology have taken Media Asset Management (MAM) systems for South African broadcasters to astounding new heights.
HOW IT USED TO BE
The tapes had some information written on them, but if the broadcaster wanted to know more details as to the footage, they used their custom-built MAM system. It had basic metadata that gave more information, but “these systems were only hard coded – that is, the vendor would define the storage policy in their software,” explains Shaun Kerr, divisional manager of Broadcast and Multimedia at Protea Electronics (which is Ooyala’s partner for MAM systems in South Africa).
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE
With the massive amounts of video media being produced and consumed on a daily basis, broadcasters needed an efficient, quicker system that would enable them to easily find the exact footage they were looking for in their digital archive. Driven by advancements in technology, the current MAM format was born.
“MAM must now mirror and support the complexity associated with delivering highly personalised, effectively ‘segment of one’ style content. All of a sudden, you need to support many more formats, languages, etc. to be able to reach out on a personalised level to an individual user. All of those different renditions must be neatly organised and the complexity associated with managing this has been another factor in the evolution of MAM,” explains Kerr.
“The push toward international interoperability of media deliverables across systems, the need for deeper and wider automation to reduce repetitive manual chores and the growth in OTT, VOD and streaming services requiring hundreds if not thousands of different versions for distribution and playback, have all driven innovation and evolution in MAM technology,” adds Colin Wainer, CEO of Inala Broadcast (which is Tedial’s partner for MAM systems in South Africa).
Quite a lot of automation happens today during the MAM process, from purely human input previously. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) that recognises scene changes is possible. There’s voice to text technology, enabling search based on each word. Facial recognition, combining AI and machine learning, character recognition including signage and graphics, and even landmark and person sentiment recognition technology is also available.
PROLIFERATION OF SUPPLIERS
The number of suppliers of MAM systems has also increased. Whereas before, bespoke in-house systems were used by each broadcaster, “now broadcast solutions providers have taken on the MAM system to standardise, and to ensure it complies with metadata models approved by the Society of Music Producers and Television Engineers (SMPTE). Nowadays most people choose the metadata model first and then a solution that goes around it,” says Colin Stoltz, account manager at Jasco Broadcast Solutions.
Major suppliers in South Africa include Avid, and Viz, as well as non-traditional broadcast suppliers including IT giants like Oracle, and IBM. “At NAB this year, there were over 1 700 vendors exhibiting, each trying to sell some product, system or service to support media companies somewhere in the content lifecycle. If we filter this list down to companies that offer ‘media asset management’ solutions, then this list still exceeds 250 companies,” comments Kerr.
INTEGRATION OF MULTIPLE SYSTEMS
Whereas before the MAM system was only linked to the source device, now systems across the broadcasters’ operations are all interconnected.
“Workflow has progressed to full orchestration, where an entire operation is linked to the MAM as the central director of media collection, preparation and distribution: This connects the back-office tools such as traffic and content management solutions with the library of assets and the outputs for monetisation, such as a linear playout channel, VOD pitches or Blue Ray authoring. The key changes supporting these enhancements are the viability of scalable business process workflow engines and Restful APIs to better connect disparate tools,” says Wainer.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ENRICHING DATA
While all these changes have taken place, one element has remained constant throughout, the importance of enriching the data in the MAM system.
“Everyone has a pot full of files. But they are only an asset if you can find what you’re looking for in that pot. Otherwise, it’s just a file. If you don’t have enough metadata describing that file, then you may as well just delete them,” emphasises Stoltz. Nowadays this is done via user input and/or automation systems.
THE FUTURE OF MAM SYSTEMS
Further advances in technology will have the biggest impact on MAM systems going forward. “More cloud storage, more intelligence, more automation,” comments Paul Divall, managing director of the Intelligent Technologies division at Jasco Broadcast Solutions.
“Not AI for the sake of the new, but actual smart functions that take advantage of the new metadata engines to multiply outputs and increase the human capabilities. Cloud systems and innovation to enhance speed of deployment and delivery, with access from anywhere and the ability to manage capacity on a per-project basis,” adds Wainer.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
The importance of MAM systems, especially as media companies continue to consolidate, cannot be stressed enough. “The ability to manage operations and workflows across multiple sites and in fact automate functions across geographical boundaries, or even around the globe, lets today’s managers effectively manage costs, bandwidth and capacity as systems migrate to cloud infrastructure,” he concludes.
SA MAMS VS. GLOBAL MAMS
Unlike some technology, where South Africa lags behind global markets, the MAM systems being sold in the country, and used by most SA broadcasters, are on par with those used in international markets. The implementation by some broadcasters of the advanced MAM system may be lacking, due to funding constraints or the requirements and the desired outcomes of the individual broadcaster, but it is available to them if they choose. A difference though, is that SA broadcasters are not yet making use of the advanced AI and machine learning technologies that are available, which some international broadcasters are already utilising.