White Paper: Today’s Sports Need 4K-Enabled MAM

With complex coverage, sophisticated media-asset management benefits the entire chain of production

By Oscar Tengwall, Product Manager, Vizrt

Perhaps nowhere is the need to effectively manage and prepare content for distribution more evident than in sports. Broadcasters and video-production companies working in sports must capture, prepare, and distribute content faster and more efficiently than ever. Workflows must be more streamlined and operate more cost-effectively while managing content from ever greater numbers of high-speed cameras and delivering even higher-value programming.

Robust investment in sports production has long driven innovation that is then adopted by other areas of broadcasting. This has been good news for technology and the industry as a whole, but it also brings a slew of challenges.

Even before the advent of 4K, sports coverage was increasingly complex. More close-ups, replays, and analysis spurred technology advances. Storytelling and production tools have evolved alongside today’s in-your-face live sports coverage, and so has the need to manage the content being captured and stored.

Today’s media landscape requires the ability to handle the explosion of new content formats and rising standards, such as 4K. The implementation of an effective 4K-enabled media-asset–management (MAM) platform that can handle new technologies and will benefit the entire chain of production has become crucial in the sports world.

Higher Resolutions and Frame Rates
Today’s MAM systems can and should simplify sports production, adapt to individual workflows, and encompass the related tools needed to optimize production of an asset’s many versions and variants that need to be delivered. Proactively implementing a MAM system of 4K-enabled elements reduces the amount of equipment required and limits the need for incremental system upgrades. An open, scalable system is much more future-proof and mitigates the risk of replacement.

Viz-One-diagramThe introduction of 4K in today’s sophisticated MAM systems should not change basic services: file management, load balancing, partial retrieval, file movement. For these services, 4K is simply a system configuration. The impact is greater on the transcoding side, where new codecs require updated toolsets.

Built-in transcoding capabilities can help handle 4K, future resolutions, and a wide variety of codecs. The architecture of advanced IP-based MAM systems should enable scaling to almost any resolution and frame rate. Equipped with 10-GB Ethernet as well as cluster file systems, these MAM systems provide enough throughput to easily handle UHD and 4K video.

In addition to ensuring the success of end-to-end 4K workflows, MAM systems must manage the much larger bandwidth that 4K consumes, greater storage space it occupies, and increased network capacity it requires.

Every time a new solution is purchased and users are trained on it, it’s a costly endeavor. Doing your homework and understanding the MAM environment and the products available are critical to making the best decisions.

Open, Scalable MAM
The days of a single, monolithic system are over, just as highly siloed, non-interoperable systems belong in the past. As the broadcast/media world grows increasingly IT-centric, an open, scalable MAM system is essential. A distributed architecture is key to achieving the openness to integrate with other systems.

It’s important for anyone deploying a MAM system — broadcasters, studios, rightsholders — to have a full understanding of what’s “under its hood.” It’s critical to look for a system that has an open rather than an application-based infrastructure that will not only operate most efficiently but will also not depend on lots of proprietary components. This approach takes a significant investment of time and resources to develop but offers the kind of integration and streamlined operation that no number of APIs can duplicate.

A system must not only scale as the needs grow but must also enable geographically separated users to engage with the system and each other. This is critically important given the rise of “at-home” production and geographically dispersed teams.

A Single System for Playout to All Platforms
Video consumption is changing with viewer habits. Interaction via second screens is rising fast, with sports fans looking to interact through social media and experience their sports when and where they want via such devices as tablets and smartphones.

Consider last year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, for which more than 10 million apps were downloaded and as many as 3 million users a day enriched their experience through second-screen services. In total, more than 24 million unique users watched tens of millions of hours of content through multimedia solutions over the course of the tournament.

So it’s critical for broadcasters to publish content to online and mobile platforms. Often, this production is handled by a separate department, resulting in cumbersome workflows and a disjointed and clumsy handoff between departments. Online producers in particular are often required to work on a number of different systems to create the necessary video, graphics, stills, and metadata for Websites and apps.

Leading-edge MAM systems enable asset production and delivery to any platform in one workflow, allowing content packaging and delivery that is dramatically more efficient than traditional workflows allow. Fast-paced, no-compromise live sports productions require integrated and streamlined tools that allow users to quickly find desired content stored on servers and send it to the right desktop for further processing, including editing in an NLE or graphics system.

The infrastructure must be able to manage all types of media during production, including for ingest, cataloging, archiving, and editing. Online variations from 4K resolution and down should be created as content is brought into the MAM or as an explicit publishing step.

Storage: Look to the Cloud
With 4K comes the challenge of a four-fold increase in storage compared with HD. In addition, efficient media production requires easy access to the right assets at the right time. For this to happen, numerous production staffers must be able to access a reliable central repository — where assets are stored, searched for, and retrieved — and a cutting-edge file-management system. And they must be able to use and access this content simultaneously.

In years past, this central storage was located onsite within a facility. Today, this capability is increasingly provided via the cloud, both private and public, enabling professionals located anywhere in the world to access files and collaborate in real time. Indeed, cloud-based storage will be key to keeping up with the ever increasing demand for more content.

Enabling editors and users to get to work faster, accelerating content ingest in parallel across a unified storage pool, and storing high volumes of data in active archives means that broadcasters, studios, and distribution networks can scale independently and on the fly.

Live Conform and Multiplatform Distribution
By taking advantage of sophisticated IP-based infrastructures, today’s most advanced MAM systems allow broadcasters to make edits to video and graphics from within their native newsroom system until the last moment before content is sent live to air. With the edit-decision list (EDL) and graphic information stored as metadata, the video and graphics playlist is sent to the control room, and the final piece is played back on-air in real time — automatically sized and distributed online and to mobile devices. This is ideal for fast-paced sports and saves tremendous space by storing only original files rather than clogging servers with edited content. It also saves time by performing the conforming process live with automatic multiplatform distribution.

Using Metadata To Optimize Search
Enriching assets with metadata — titles, descriptions, categories, markers, keywords, annotations, scene descriptions — makes it easier for users to locate and retrieve media. File movements, housekeeping, and graphics can and should be automated to utilize metadata.

To be most beneficial, metadata should contain only the relevant information that will streamline the production. Although all production tools can often add metadata, there is generally one dedicated application just for doing that. The application can help organize and add descriptive time-based information to assets in the central repository. Loggers, catalogers, archivists, and journalists can add a broad number of types of information to a file, such as archive metadata, compliance notes, edit notes, QC notes, scripts, highlights, and subclipping. Other users — producers, editors, journalists — can instantly find material based on this data.

Leveraging the user-configurable, metadata-modeling tool inside MAM systems allows any type of event to be supported. And, once a file is uploaded — sometimes, even before it is fully uploaded — into the server, all metadata is instantly searchable by the entire team. New metadata and changes are instantly updated in all applications managed by the system.

Integration and centralized control and management are critical to seamless, high-speed sports operations. Today, many production tools can be tightly integrated into and controlled by one overall MAM platform, ideally one that can be accessed by anyone from a desk in the facility or from somewhere on the other side of the globe. That’s the type of access, flexibility, and collaborative workflows that the most advanced content producers and distributors are counting on to keep their businesses successful.

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