NAB Reflections: Square Box Systems’ Dave Clack Talks AI’s Impact on MAM, CatDV’s Growth in Sports

AI, easily customized MAM hold promise for sports’ vast content archives

At NAB 2018, Square Box Systems showcased an array of new features for its flagship CatDV media-asset–management solution, including a preview of AI technology for speech recognition and image analysis. Also highlighted were new customization features, new panels for Adobe Creative Cloud and Avid Media Composer, and several other new third-part integrations.

SVG sat down with Square Box Systems CEO Dave Clack to discuss the latest features in CatDV, how he sees AI revolutionizing MAM, and why he believes CatDV can compete with higher-priced MAM systems for large, enterprise-level implementations at major media organizations.

Dave Clack at the Square Box Systems booth at NAB 2018

What are CatDV’s big announcements at NAB 2018?
We have several. The first is CatDV AI, which allows you to use online auto tagging, speech-to-text, find people, find locations, and find sentiments in content. Obviously, AI is going to be a big deal for the asset-management industry as a whole, so we are excited to be launching this set of integrations with the AI providers. Folks will be able to see a whole load more metadata than ever before. Clearly, that’s important when you have a big back catalog of historic content, like sports organizations.

Second, we’ve got a whole lot of new customizations that open the door to making CatDV a true platform: completely new user interfaces and workflows. We’ve opened the door to a load of other developers, primarily our tier-one partners, to be able to make CatDV their own. They can give it a different skin, give it a different workflow, and give it different metadata, which is really transformational.

We also rewrote our [Adobe] Premiere Pro panel a few months ago; we’ve now extended to making one in After Effects, Illustrator, and Photoshop. That allows creative professionals to stick within the tool of choice and pull content in rather than having to switch applications. It saves time, saves money, and saves stress.

And then we have our usual slew of additional integrations: BackBlaze B2 for archive, which is very cost-effective; transcoding plugins for Vantage, ContentAgent, and AWS Elemental; Aspera for accelerated file transfers; new decoders and additional file-format support; and two-factor authentication and single sign-on for folks who have higher security needs.

Anything new this year specifically for the sports-production community?
Absolutely. We’re really focusing on sports workflows right now. There are already quite a lot of small but very significant sports-organization optimizations in CatDV. More than 50 professional and amateur sports organizations use CatDV across football, hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, esports, and others. Based on those clients, we have made some significant tweaks to the way that we search and link fields together, so you find things more easily no matter how the content was logged. We also now have a button-based sports logger, which means that manual tagging is easier than ever before. It’s very configurable and very customizable.

AI is a huge theme at NAB 2018. How do you see AI-based technologies changing the way sports organizations create and manage content?
AI fundamentally changes how all the products in this sector work, because, rather than having a meager set of a few fields that are harvested from human logging or file and folder paths or spreadsheets, you suddenly have loads of metadata information automatically. Sometimes that might need to be curated and fixed up, but it’s a huge first step.

We came here to NAB with our integration with Google AI technologies as a preview. For those folks who have more-sophisticated needs, we’ve got a partnership with Veritone, an AI aggregator. And our intention was to use the show as a sounding board and to listen actively to what folks might want to do with AI. What we’re hearing is, people want it now, which is very exciting. Our [AI platform] will become available over the summer, but we’re already seeing loads of interest.

I think, in the coming year, machine-learning AI tools [will enable users] to quickly tag these huge volumes of historic content. Many sports organizations have so much tape on the shelf, and it’s too daunting to even think about digitizing them: if you don’t add metadata when you [digitize], that content is worthless, and that is very time-consuming. But, if you can use AI tools to handle the first pass at metadata, that’s an amazing step up for those kinds of archive-digitization projects. I think that’s pretty cool for the industry as a whole.

In the sports community, CatDV has primarily been known for installations at smaller organizations, such as pro franchises and universities. Do you expect CatDV to make its way into enterprise-level sports clients?
About a year ago, we recognized that we could do as much with CatDV as many of the higher-cost platforms. We decided to open up our ecosystem a little bit so that folks could do a lot more with CatDV, and then we could compete on a much more level playing field with some of the higher-cost products. What we’re hoping to do is to give the cost advantages of an out-of-the-box product but the user experience and customization that makes it look like it’s some bespoke, fully customized tool. You get the best of both worlds: the best of the tailored completely for me and the cost advantages of products off the shelf.

We are definitely looking bigger, and we are doing quite a few displacements of [major MAM vendors] at the moment. I think the higher-cost providers who try to sell at our price point fail: in order to sell a tool, they have to cripple their own product, because that’s not what it was built for. Some of them have great products, but, in order to sell them at a price point that’s a half or a third or even a fifth of what they normally sell at, they have to strip everything out. Customers end up really disappointed because, during the sales process, they’ve seen all the cool stuff but what they’re actually able to purchase is much less. So, yes, we are tackling those larger deals. We looked around at what the bigger, more expensive players provide, and I believe it’s no different from what we do.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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