SAMS Forum: Top MAM Execs Sound Off on Metadata, Connectivity, the Cloud

At SVG’s ninth-annual Sports Asset Management & Storage (SAMS) Forum last week, a wide-ranging “State of the Industry” panel set the stage for the day’s festivities. Moderated by SAMS Committee Chair and NHL SVP of Technology Grant Nodine and featuring industry leaders from DirecTV Sports Networks, MLB Network, NFL Films/Network, Turner Sports, Dalet, and Vizrt, the session delved into automated metatdata assignment, rights management, and the challenges that 4K presents to media-asset management (MAM). One thing was made abundantly clear by the panelists: when building something as complex and dynamic as a MAM and storage infrastructure, prepare to be wrong.

“Planning your [MAM] system is kind of strange, because you are basically planning for the funeral of the product you are just launching.” said DirecTV Sports Networks Chief Systems Integrator Tom Scholle, who is leading the effort to launch a Cantemo MAM system across all four Root Sports RSNs. “We spent a lot of time building and designing the system, but we also spent a lot of time discussing what would be next if we moved away from it in 10 years. That can be challenging, because you are very pleased with what you have and the decision you have made but, at the same time, you are planning for what’s next.”

Fat Pipes Feed MAM Innovation
Over the past half decade, the rise of high-octane IP connectivity has drastically changed the way broadcast centers are built and MAM ecosystems are developed, and the evolution is accelerating. For example, last year, MLB Network launched a system featuring 10-Gbps connectivity directly off the back of the servers at its Secaucus, NJ, facility, feeding into a 40-Gbps backbone from rack to rack. This year, MLB Network is looking to expand that even further with a 100-Gbps backbone.

“If I look at what we built in 2008 [when the network launched], what we built last year, and what I’m looking to build going forward, it’s gone up 100-fold in just the network capabilities, from a 1-Gig to a 3-gig to a 100-gig network backbone,” said Tab Butler, director, media management and post production, MLB Network. “So, as soon as you start building that kind of infrastructure, everything else grows: the storage and application layers, everything. That fundamental backbone of the infrastructure has been the key piece that has been monumental in our growth.”

NFL Films Goes Digital
Last season, NFL Films officially made the move from film to digital capture and built out a 1-Gbps private network connecting all 31 NFL stadiums to its headquarters in Mt. Laurel, NJ. This allowed NFL Films to begin using this content on Sunday, instead of waiting for film to be processed. That shortened its time-to-air schedule for shows like Inside the NFL (moved from Wednesday to Tuesday last season) and NFL Network programming by a full day. The network is now being upgraded to 10 Gbps, which will only elevate the NFL Films production team’s expectations for access.

“Everyone wants near real time, and I’m sure we’ll be doing things [on-air] with our footage on Monday before too long,” said Dave Franza, VP/executive in charge of production application development and support, NFL Films/NFL Network. “In terms of the capture side, the capability for the cameras to do super-slow motion at the level we needed just wasn’t there till the last couple years, and the cost was exorbitant. We’re just at a break-even point now with that. Technically, it’s a much more efficient and faster-to-air process coming right from the field.”

NFL Films is also undertaking a massive digitization process as it converts its entire library to digital. More than 80,000 hours of film — some dating back to the 1940s and ’50s — are being digitized into its archive.

“Technology in the film-scanning environment has made it a lot cheaper to do this process now,” Franza noted.

Greater Visibility: Connecting Remote Productions With Home Base
As the use of “at-home” workflows for remote productions continues to increase with broadcasters like ESPN (REMI model for NCAA basketball, MLS, and WNBA), Pac-12 Networks, Big Ten Network, NBC Olympics, and others, MAM systems at home must adapt. Broadcasters and vendors are seeking new ways to make content visible across multiple remote productions and the broadcast center to tie the entire operation together and streamline access for all parties.

“One key focus for us is creating greater visibility into the organization, not just localized but remotes,” explained Luc Comeau, senior business development manager, Dalet. “[We need to] bring the whole family together and [have] this content truly relational across the different production locations so that you don’t have an island of content that is totally unrelated or duplicated. Having that visibility from the remote trucks within one unique viewing experience for all content consumers within the MAM environment is one of the key components that is going to change things.”

Semantic Metadata: Customizing for Each Group
Much of the discussion at the Forum revolved around semantic metadata and how it is likely to impact traditional MAM operations. Larger media organizations are likely to benefit the most: allowing different user groups to define their own metadata schema rather than having an overarching policy for the entire organization promises to allow each group to more easily and quickly find content.

“Semantic metadata and its acceptance has been a huge boon to large organizations that have different user groups,” said Kathleen Shannon, library archivist, Turner Sports. “It’s one thing when you have a shared repository of content, but making that available and findable to different groups is a whole other challenge. These are people that are looking for different angles and different types of footage — all of the same event but with different strategies for locating it. When you are able to map the relationships between your metadata field so it makes sense to each individual user group, it really opens up your collection to everybody.”

The Rise of Object Storage and the Cloud
Anther key topic throughout the day was object storage and its potential to revolutionize the way major sports-content owners store their assets. Object-storage architecture essentially eliminates traditional file-system storage in favor of managing data as objects. Franza and other panelists spoke of how object storage can streamline operations for static storage and tasks that do not require constant rewriting and reruling. In addition, as media owners increasingly rely on Amazon Web Services and other cloud providers, the role of object storage is likely to expand.

“I think one of the most significant developments recently has been the increased availability of mature in-house object-storage solutions,” said Arun Krishnaswamy PhD, director of technology, MAM, Vizrt. “I think it’s an exciting time because we have the ability to bridge some of the best technology that is available in the public cloud with in-house technology.”

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