A picture is worth a thousand words: Page 3

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To really capture Web visitors' hearts and minds, says Holst, it's critical to meld CRM with a branding experience that is as rich as the one people get in broadcasting and print. That means using the same ads on the Web that customers see on television and in magazines. Digital asset management systems let companies quickly reposition a successful broadcast television ad for use on the Web, he says.
At a Glance

Cable News Network

The company: Atlanta-based CNN is a unit of Turner Broadcasting System Time Warner Inc., the billion a year media and entertainment cable broadcaster.

The problem: News feeds stored on traditional analog video tape meant CNN's journalists competed with each other for access to video. What's more, CNN, CNN Headline News, CNN International, and the company's other divisions each had their own duplicate video production facilities.

The solution: CNN's Mediasource digital asset management system digitizes and indexes CNN video feeds coming into the company's Atlanta headquarters.

The IT infrastructure: Digitized video is stored on Hewlett-Packard Co. HP-UX servers; the index resides in an Informix database on the same machines. News feeds are digitized and indexed by Virage's VideoLogger and stored in an SGI Origin 2000 server. Meta data describing the video resides in an Informix database running on two Hewlett-Packard eight-CPU N-class servers running HP-UX.

A revolution in the media business

While the Web has been the impetus for many digital asset management system purchases, there are other drivers. For media companies whose livelihood depends on moving images, for example, managing video digitally is revolutionizing the way business is conducted. Digital asset management "has turned our world upside down," says Kevin Ivey, vice president for research and development at broadcaster Cable News Network (CNN), the Atlanta-based unit of Turner Broadcasting System Time Warner Inc.

Prior to 1998, says Ivey, CNN's news staff worked from videotapes. When editors or writers wanted to prepare a story, they had to go to a circulation window, check out the tape--the same tape that would be shown later on the air--and watch it on a video viewer. Unless there was time to make copies, there was only one tape.

Not infrequently, a writer needed a tape that had been checked out by an editor. Just as often, different divisions within CNN all wanted the same tape. "On a day with breaking news," recalls Ivey, "who got the source material first became a question of who screamed the loudest."

In mid-1998 CNN's newsroom systems IT group along with its research and development department installed a digital asset management system the company calls Mediasource. News feeds coming into Atlanta from the company's 32 news bureaus around the world--more than 150 hours of video each day--automatically are "ingested," or digitized and indexed, by Virage's VideoLogger product and stored in a Silicon Graphics Inc. Origin 2000 server. The digitized meta data describing the video resides in an Informix Corp. database running on two Hewlett-Packard Co. eight-CPU N-class servers running HP-UX. CNN closely worked with Informix to create the meta data indexing system; the result now is available as an Informix product called Media360.

Now, says Ivey, journalists can look at the video on their own computers, and staffers at CNN, CNN Headline News, CNN International, and the company's other divisions all have equal access to the content. Mediasource is installed on about 325 desktops in CNN's Atlanta headquarters. Typically, about 100 users are on the system at any given time. The system currently is accessible only to CNN staffers in Atlanta, but the news company hopes to extend it beyond the corporate intranet to bureaus around the world, Ivey says.

With multiple users able to view the same video feed simultaneously, the process of creating news stories has become much more efficient, says Ivey. The index also has sped up the process, he adds. Virage's VideoLogger breaks each video into discrete segments by identifying visual scene changes, spoken words, names and faces of recognized speakers, topics discussed within each clip, and other information. Each segment has a thumbnail, so CNN's editors and writers can go directly to that point in the video, without having to search through an entire tape. In addition, a search engine lets users search for particular characters or topics.

The more efficient editing process has meant a drop of almost 30% in CNN's editing costs, which is the most expensive step in the story creating process, Ivey says. The company also has been able to cut its production assistance support by nearly 70%, because there is no need to manually search videotape libraries, he says.
Lessons learned about digital asset management

--The Web is forcing IT managers to confront the masses of unstructured data--images, audio, and video--that have accumulated in their organizations.

--Digital asset management systems hold the potential for unlocking new revenue streams for companies--even companies which don't think of themselves as being in the media business, like General Motors.

--Companies are wasting huge amounts of time hunting for media assets they know they have, but can't locate. Digital asset management systems mean less time spent searching for these assets, and less time spent re-creating them if they can't be found.

--Companies are realizing that image, video, and other rich media files have to be accessible to the whole organization, regardless of which department created them. Managing these assets digitally lets companies use the same corporate logo, photos of executives, and pictures and written descriptions of merchandise on the Web, in print or television ads, on a billboard, or in a catalog.

Like GM, CNN envisions using its new abilities to manage video to create new business opportunities. Before Mediasource, says Ivey, each CNN division had its own team of employees who were responsible for managing video production. This made it expensive to launch a new network. The new system allows the company to centralize video handling, which means a new network--CNN-FN or CNN Sports Illustrated, for example--now can be created easily without having to build new video production facilities, he says.

With all video available on a server, CNN uses the material in other ways as well. One possibility the company is exploring is the Web, says Ivey. When the movie American Beauty swept this year's Academy Awards, for example, CNN might have filmed a two-hour interview with the movie's star, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, but only actually used 30 seconds of it on the air. "If you're a real Kevin Spacey fan," says Ivey, "or you really liked American Beauty, you might want to see the whole interview. We should have a way to provide the full two hours to our customers." The Web, Ivey says, is the ideal place to do that.

That's the sort of project that would have been difficult or impossible at CNN a year and a half ago. But now, says Ivey, CNN can create content once, and present it to consumers in lots of different ways. And that's the sort of capability that is making lots of companies look at digital asset management systems. //

Dan Orzech is a Philadelphia-based writer specializing in technology. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and many computer industry publications. He can be reached at orzech@well.com.

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