When the Lumiére Brothers went out in 1896 and shot The Arrival of a Train, the first ever movie, I think it is fairly safe to say they wrote down what they had filmed and how they had shot it. They probably recorded the lens aperture and any camera settings, and maybe some exposure detail to help in the lab.
So as well as making the first ever movie, they started the first ever media asset management system.
We have always needed to know about the content we possess. On shoots, the PA would write down scene, shot and take numbers, and any comments from the director. In the archive, we had labels on film cans and tape boxes, and maybe a card index to point us to the right shelf to find the material we wanted.
Broadcasters would schedule a channel using Post-it notes on a wall chart. Eventually the schedule would be locked, someone would type up a list for the day, and runners were despatched to take the right tapes to the playout suite.
We began to talk about media asset management when playout automation came along. First with tapes in robotic libraries, and later with servers, the computer had to know where to find each piece of media, so it made sense to have a grand look-up table. It made sense to group more and more information together, and it became less an electronic equivalent of a card index than an information resource that boosted productivity.
Today we expect an asset management system to track all that we know about a piece of content. This is the metadata: the information about content. Some of that metadata will be technical – the format, the running time, maybe the camera and lens used on location – and some will be descriptive – what it is called, what it is about, who it features, and so on.
In an ideal installation there will be a single asset management system which contains all the information. Sometimes this might be a conceptual single system comprised of multiple specialist computers, but all talking to each other as necessary.
A broadcaster’s intellectual property rights system might be separate, but some of its information will be vital to the work of the planners and schedulers, for example. The playout automation computer might be independent, but obviously it needs to know what content is required in the coming days to ensure it is all in the playout servers in plenty of time.
It only takes a few minutes with a piece of scrap paper to jot down tens, perhaps hundreds of pieces of information you need to record for each piece of content. So the database (or databases) which underpins the asset management system needs to be big, powerful and flexible.
But the last thing you want to do is present all this information to every user. It would be, frankly, scary. And a virtual guarantee that people would shy away from the system, rendering it largely useless.
So there are two golden rules for designing the perfect asset management system, which override all other technical and operational considerations.
First, user screens should be designed for the individual role, with just the metadata fields that are relevant to that job title. No screens packed with data: just the bit that person is interested in.
Second, and related, is that each piece of metadata needs to be owned by someone, and that someone is the one that cares about it. If the metadata is important to you, then you have to make sure it is entered and correct, and the record cannot leave your screen until you have done it.
Do this and everyone will relate comfortably to the asset management system, and the information it contains will be accurate and complete. Armed with that, you can turbo-charge your operations using dynamic workflows and automated processing, all built on the solid foundation of your media asset management.