From Tapes to Bits Digital Asset Management

When terrorists demolished the twin towers on September 11, 2001, producers of the PBS documentary program Frontline needed to quickly create shows about al-Qaida. They had footage of Osama bin Laden from previous broadcasts, but it was on videotapes and CDs stored in cardboard boxes on library shelves. As a result, archivists spent 625 hours over a period of two months fielding producers’ requests for material, finding it and then reshelving it.

The same problem can plague other organizations where marketing departments struggle to keep track of logos, product photos, PowerPoint presentations, webcasts and press releases. And the inability to track such assets efficiently often leads to wasted effort and higher costs. To solve the problem, some organizations are turning to digital asset management (DAM) systems, a combination of hardware and software that serves as a centralized catalog for audio, video, text and images.

For 11 years, WGBH, the public television station in Boston where Frontline is produced, had struggled to create a DAM system that integrated with the rest of the organization’s workflows and production technology. But when WGBH started the effort, standards for digitization were just emerging, according to David Yockelson, a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner, who covers DAM. And hardware didn’t have enough power to deal with the 2 terabytes of new content that broadcasters such as WGBH generate daily. All of this made for a Herculean task for the small broadcaster, which didn’t have the IT staff or the funding for such an intensive undertaking. Even now, WGBH has just 22 IT workers and an IT budget of $4.2 million.

But WGBH is in a much different position today thanks to partnerships it forged in 2000 with companies such as Sun Microsystems, OpenText (a provider of collaboration and content management software that purchased DAM system provider Artesia in August 2004), and a variety of other vendors in the digital media and broadcasting space to create an open, standards-based reference architecture for DAM. The reference architecture serves as a manual not only for public broadcasters but for any organization with the need to manage rich media, including government and educational organizations, advertising agencies, Web and print publishers, retailers and manufacturers. The reference architecture is available for free to anyone who wants to view it, as long as he signs a nondisclosure agreement to protect Sun’s intellectual property. The first version of the reference architecture was published in April 2003, and a second version that features more vendor partners, more storage connectivity, more support for different file types, and the ability to monitor and track contracts and rights came exactly two years later.

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