Sports Asset Management & Storage Forum: Launching a MAM Workflow Requires Patience, Persistence

Building an asset-management workflow from scratch is one of the most daunting undertakings in video production. For sports broadcasters, leagues, and multimedia-rights holders, a robust asset management is a necessary evil for preservation, but, when executed correctly, it can open doors to a wealth of monetization opportunities.

Keith Horstman, NBA Entertainment, VP Digital Media Management Systems

Keith Horstman, NBA Entertainment, VP Digital Media Management Systems

On Thursday, SVG hosted 230 industry professionals for the eighth-annual Sports Asset Management & Storage Forum, where the conversation kicked off with a comprehensive look at best practices in launching a media-asset–management (MAM) workflow on a large scale and a peek at the Golf Channel’s new Optical Disk Archive built by Sony.

A panel of experts from across the sports world broke down the steps taken to get their respective companies’ MAM systems up and running. A common thread was the need to properly archive an aging tape library. For the rightsholder, there was an inherent responsibility to preserve history.

“We are the sole rights owner of the content, so it was our mandate to store this stuff,” says Keith Horstman, VP, digital media management systems, NBA Entertainment, who got his lo-res and hi-res MAM workflows into production in 2004 and 2006, respectively.  “I can’t tell you how much we’ve spent over the years on it. It’s a devastating process, but, if you take it channel by channel, it’s easy to overcome.”

As the world’s largest rightsholder of golf footage, PGA Entertainment archived nearly 80,000 hours of content in its first wave of digitization, using its own in-house solution. David Dukes, senior director, technical operations, acknowledged that it’s a lot of work up front but said it offers a world of new production opportunities.

David Dukes, PGA Entertainment, Senior Director, Technical Operations

David Dukes, PGA Entertainment, Senior Director, Technical Operations

“We do a lot of production out of our facility: long-form shows, weekly shows,” said Dukes, who launched PGA Entertainment’s MAM system in fall 2010 following a two-year buildout. “That much content is not an unusual problem for a lot of people, but we had some complexities in the length of our tournament rounds.

“They tend to be longer than the regular sporting event in most cases … anywhere between three and six hours per round,” he continued. “In the videotape world, that breaks down to a lot of tapes. So we used an in-house solution because we wanted to have the oversight of that process. We effectively traded the speed of outsourcing to a large entity for what we felt was a stronger emphasis on accuracy and control.”

Additionally, at times, surprisingly hard decisions need to be made at the beginning of the process. DIRECTV and its three ROOT Sports RSNs (Northwest, Pittsburgh, and Rocky Mountain) are currently tackling their archival needs with a soft MAM launch planned for the end of this year. Its team has discovered that it’s not just finding the content but deciding what to keep.

“It’s been a scary beginning, because we’ve discovered nothing is offsite,” says Tom Scholle, chief systems integrator, DIRECTV Sports Networks. “Everything is spread around and in places like a room that’s next to leaky pipes. Being a regional sports network, we have a lot of rights that come and go, so we have those debates about what to keep. For example, in Seattle, there are boxes and boxes of Sonics tapes, and no one wants to get rid of that because everyone hopes the Sonics return.”

Tracey Shaw, WWE, VP, TV and Network Operations

Tracey Shaw, WWE, VP, TV and Network Operations

In additional to pure preservation, there is inherent value to historical archives, especially to avid fans of a given sport. When World Wrestling Entertainment committed two years to its archive-digitization project, a strong emphasis was placed on monetization of historical content. With the WWE Network launching earlier this year, a push for subscribers rested heavily on not just live-event content but on the access to view a robust library of wrestling history.

“We were digitizing it and logging it in such a way that the producers could use it in the best way possible and it was searchable,” says Tracey Shaw, VP, TV and network operations, WWE, where more than 30,000 hours of content has been digitized, thanks to help from Crawford Media. “The biggest problem we had seen in what we had done logging previously was, there was no consistency to the way things were being logged. So, when we went into this, we did it very meticulously to make sure that, moving forward, we would be able to utilize the materials that we were digitizing to the best of our ability.”

NBC Sports Group used the opportunity presented by construction of its new facility in Stamford, CT, to establish a new MAM workflow. The unique challenge lay in getting three separate entities and archives together into one streamlined process.

At the time of the project in 2012, NBC Sports Group was looking to bring together NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, and the newly acquired Versus (now NBCSN). Unifying them was no easy task. NBC Olympics had its own system going back to the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games, Versus has a large Avid Interplay archive, and the rest of NBC Sports proper had a large, degrading tape archive.

Matthew Green, NBC Sports and Olympics, Senior Digital Media Engineer

Matthew Green, NBC Sports and Olympics, Senior Digital Media Engineer

“The big part of our goal was to design this facility in a way that each of these different groups could come together, have the production tools that they were familiar with, but also have access to the additional workflows over time and try to get away from creating and consuming so much tape,” said Matthew Green, senior digital media engineer, NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. The project eventually standardized on XDCAM 50 file format across all the groups and archived more than 300,000 tape volumes with the help of Media Recall by Deluxe.

When establishing a large-scale MAM system, one cannot forget about those who will actually use the system: editors, producers, and loggers. One piece of the process that many panelists agreed on was getting users involved much earlier in the buildout.

“You’re proud of what you’ve built, and there’s not a lot of components I would have changed, but I would have involved the users a lot earlier in the process because you find that, when they’re involved, the change they have to make is much more adopted by them,” said Horstman. “We’ve changed editing environments four or five times, and, every time, it’s a pain.”

Dukes concurred: “If you’re talking about a large production workflow, you have to involve those people early. Change is hard, period. Getting them involved makes them comfortable with it when you do make the change, but you also learn things you didn’t realize about your workflow. You don’t know what you don’t know going into this.”

Tom Scholle, DirecTV Sports Networks, Chief Systems Integrator

Tom Scholle, DirecTV Sports Networks, Chief Systems Integrator

Later in the day, NBC Sports Group and Sony presented a detailed outline of the new workflows behind the Golf Channel’s new Optical Disk Archive system that was launched earlier this year.

Digitizing the network’s assets became critical to the production process.

“One of our biggest bugaboos has been, ‘ok we need this shot pulled from our archive of Tiger Woods from this particular course at this particular Masters at this particular time’ and instead of having an archive go search back and forth on linear tape, now with random access capability and partial file retrievability it makes it instant,” said  NBC Sports Group’s Ken Botelho, who is Senior Director of Engineering at Golf Channel.

The new archive is built around Sony’s ODS-L30M master library unit, which can store as many as two ODS-D77F fiber drives, giving it a maximum capacity of 30 optical discs. But extension units can boost that capacity to 535 discs, for a total storage capacity of approximately 802 TB.

Botelho outlines many of the advantages and disadvantages between LTO tapes and ODA in his presentation. ODA’s 50-year guaranteed life was a major draw.

“We don’t have all of the answers and for some applications this might not be the necessary cure all for the evil,” admitted Botelho, “but for what we decided to do, this has been one of the biggest success stories [Golf Channel] has.”