SAMS Forum: The Requirements of Bulk-Ingest Workflows

Experts discuss the importance of metadata management and minimal video ‘flavors’

As sports leagues and broadcast networks invest increasingly in file-based workflows and digitized archives, the question remains: what to do with all those tapes? Their massive tape libraries can date back to the early 20th century. Ingesting hundreds of thousands of hours of video into recently acquired media-asset–management systems takes time, manpower, and — most important — organization. At SVG’s Sports Asset Management & Storage Forum last week, experts discussed the most efficient and effective techniques for bringing physical-tape–based libraries into the digital age.

The NHL, for example, currently preparing for its centennial season, must digitize nearly 100 years of assets before it can use those assets in short- and long-form content to celebrate the milestone.

NHL’s Greg Notch discussed the logistical challenges of digitizing 100 years of videotapes.

NHL’s Greg Notch discussed the logistical challenges of digitizing 100 years of videotapes.

“I think it’s easy to underestimate the logistical challenges of actually picking up 100,000 videotapes and getting them digitized,” said Greg Notch, SVP, information technology and security, NHL. “Aside from all of the metadata and the software challenges of the technical digitization effort, taking a roomful of videotapes and dealing with that is quite complicated and requires a lot of handholding.”

Logging metadata for hundreds of thousands of hours of video exacerbates the challenge. “There’s no sense in taking a tape off of the shelf and digitizing if you’re never going to be able to find the file that sits in an archive,” Notch continued. “Finding key ways to make that available is also very challenging.”

Brian Staffroni, senior director, media asset management, WWE, stressed selecting the best “flavor of video” for your content that you can — for both high-resolution content and low-resolution proxies — and sticking with it. WWE currently uses DNX 145 for high-res and H.264 for low-res with the intent that producers can work with the low-res proxies and reduce storage needs.

WWE’s Brian Staffroni explained the importance of deciding on a video format and sticking with it.

WWE’s Brian Staffroni explained the importance of deciding on a video format and sticking with it.

“You’ve got to weigh quality of video versus how much you want to pay for storage,” he said. “That doesn’t apply to the low-res side of things. I think, for low res, you just really want something that’s going to be very compressed but not compressed looking. … [We want] our production team to want to work in low res because, if they say, ‘This stuff’s offline. I really just want to work in high res,’ then you didn’t pick a good enough resolution and you have to buy more storage, and that’s not good.”

Notch echoed the need to work with as few codecs as possible; the NHL now has one standard for SD and one for HD. “We standardized on the AVC for HD because our arena recordings for all of our games were already being done in that format. When it came time to backfill our catalog with stuff, we said, let’s not introduce any new codecs here. Let’s make sure that it works with all of the partial-file-restore workflows that we have.”

Selecting codecs that worked well with partial file restore “was critical to the way we use our content,” he explained. “We don’t tend to care about an entire game. We care about a moment in that game. We don’t actually store anything nearline; everything goes to tape. Even our most current content goes right to tape, and we use the pieces of it that are necessary for the production. That requires partial file restore, so that requires us to pick formats that that works well with.”

Speaking from the technology-vendor perspective, VISTA Worldlink Strategic Development Officer Jonathan Feldman stressed the need for sports leagues and broadcast networks to understand not only what they want their content to look like but how they plan to use it in the future.

“You look at how often are they going to want to get to the content [and] what are they going to use it for,” he explained. “You have to consider, again, that the content is findable, that they have metadata, they don’t have metadata, how much metadata they want us to create, they want to do a full logging on some of their content. Those are the kinds of conversations that are really critical and also drive the cost of a project.”

Of course, each league and network has its unique format and workflow requirements. Crawford Media Services EVP/CTO Steve Davis advocates having a conversation with the client to determine its quality needs, deliverable expectations, and budget constraints.

“There’s a [client] tendency early on to say, ‘We want the highest bitrate; we want [to digitize] everything that we have. When’s that going to be done, and how much is it going to cost?’ And then the [client response to the proposal] is, ‘We don’t want to do that; we need to adjust the concept a little bit,’” said Davis. “We try to go right in with that sort of a conversation, just to do a check on [client expectations], and often clients really do know exactly what they want, and it’s right on target.”

Offering the network’s point of view, former HBO Director of Production Networks and Systems Rob Zimmelman reflected on HBO’s multiyear effort to digitize its libraries. He suggested that asking content creators to supply a specific video format helped the transition.

“It was probably a five-year effort from the first system that we looked at — kicked the tires just to see if it would work — to the eventual 30-some-odd systems that we had in place when I was done with it,” said Zimmelman, currently a media and entertainment account executive with Datalink. “We also went out to the suppliers of video — folks at the various studios — and recommended that they also give us ASO2 bundles with JPEG2000. A lot of those folks got AmberFin iCR for ingest and sent us LTO tape with LTFS format with the program on it.”

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