Another DAM podcast interview with Ben Blomfield

Another DAM podcast interview with Ben Blomfield | Listen

Here are the questions asked:

  • How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
  • How does the largest broadcasting organization in the world use Digital Asset Management?
  • How does the organization deal with the long history of analog formats to be converted to digital form for future re-use?
  • What advice would you like to share with DAM Professionals and people aspiring to become DAM Professionals?

Full Transcript:

Henrik de Gyor: [0:01] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset
Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today, I’m speaking with Ben Bloomfield.
Ben, how are you?
Ben Bloomfield: [0:09] Very well, thank you.
Henrik: [0:10] Ben, how were you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Ben: [0:13] My own experience in Digital Asset Management is within the world
of video. I’ve worked for a number of broadcasters around the UK and the use
of Digital Asset Management is something which is becoming increasingly
important. [0:26] Where I really started to get involved was when I was head of
content management at ITV. We were looking at what was regarded as the lensto-
lens process. That’s about the point of capturing a program, capture it digitally,
capture it straight onto disk. It would then be edited on disk. It would then
be pushed through the transmission process through to the point of actually
being transmitted as a file.
[0:50] I’ve then moved onto BBC Worldwide where I’m Director of Global
Operations and where I have a team of 40 staff based in the UK, but also have
people dotted around in other parts of the globe who facilitate the distribution
of BBC Worldwide’s content for the sales and distribution division.
[1:09] Now, we manage the distribution of around 74,000 hours of content. We
have about 1,000 customers in over 100 countries around the world. As you
can imagine, you start doing the math, it’s ensuring that the right programs we
manage some very large kind of international brands like Dr. Who, Top Gear
ensuring that those versions are the correct version for that particular area.
[1:33] They may have a foreign language version associated to them. They may
have other additional attributes. There may be photographs, metadata, as in
editorial metadata. It’s to ensure that the deals that our sales and distribution
business make…Last year, we did in the region of 260 million pounds worth of
business. We’re turning a profit around 52 million. It’s a responsible job ensuring
Another D 228 AM Podcast Transcribed
that once those deals are done, the customers can then receive their content in
the given format.
Henrik: [2:07] How does the largest broadcasting organization in the world use
Digital Asset Management?
Ben: [2:12] We are wholly owned by the BBC. Our job is to distribute the BBC’s
content on a worldwide scale. We invest in the content along with BBC or
we work with our co-producers and produce the content and we bring those
assets in and we digitize them into a large sound system, which is run by Deluxe
Media. [2:36] Deluxe is a global distal asset management fulfillment organization,
and we store the store the assets within a master file format. We have a master
mezzanine format, which is at the highest quality for the standard definition or
high-definition files. We will then forward it on, given the deal.
[2:58] If we’re sending it to a broadcaster or if we’re sending it to a VOD platform,
we will then use the Digital Asset Management platform in line with a
transcode platform to then deliver the end program onto a partner.
[3:12] Those partners could be Netflix, Hulu or any number of…we have over
1,000 customers globally, of which about 160 of those customers receive files in
a digital format. Those digital formats are varying in their complexity.
[3:31] We have the DAM, which really feeds the transcoding system, which then
gives us the ability to deliver to our customers in the given file format that
they require.
[3:39] We also have a separate area where we have an internal editing facility,
where we have a storage of around 300 terabytes. We will take those programs
in from our master DAM. We may take those assets in and this is where we may
cut promos or cut promotional material or additional sales packages, which we
then use to help sell our programs internationally.
[4:06] The final piece is we have an online platform called the OLC, which is the
online catalogue for BBC Worldwide. There we have in the reason of about
5,500 to 6,000 of hours, long form programs, but they’ve been condensed
down into viewable assets over the Internet. They’re streamable assets of any
low bit rate.
[4:27] The buyers are able to watch the videos online. If they like them, they will
go forward in their sale.
[4:33] Our businesses, we have around 23,000 hours digitized in a number of
different areas. We then sell in the region of 74,000 hours of content a year
that’s licensed. Of that 74,000 hours of material, around half of it comes from a
digital source.
[4:52] We may take a digital file, turn it into another digital file, send it to our
customer. We may take a digital file and put it onto a tape and send it to the
customer. That makes about 5455% of our business.
[5:05] The Digital Asset Management plays a huge part of how we do business
and how we keep our costs down and help drive our revenues.
Henrik: [5:13] How does the organization deal with the long history of analog
formats to be converted to digital form for future reuse] ?
Ben: [5:20] It’s a very interesting question. It’s certainly one that is a hot topic
for us, because we’re going through an interesting stage at the moment where
we’re transitioning away from the certain tape formats. We either choose to
digitize those assets or we lose them. That’s the bottom line. [5:37] There’s a D3
tape format, there’s a 1 inch tape format, and in some instances, 2 inch tape
formats which we’re currently going through the process of evaluating, and to
say, what are the one, there are some instances where we have to digitize them,
because if we don’t we will lose them and we will lose that content forever.
[6:00] There are some instances where there are programs which are looked on
which are saying, actually we see no commercial value in keeping this program.
There’s no historical value in keeping this, so there will be a decision to not
encode those.
[6:13] It’s really a case of, one, if it’s going on a historical figure or an historical
value to it. We are now viewing budgets so we can actually then put forward
and preserve those assets. The other side is there are programs we’re going
through and we know that we can get a commercial sale against.
[6:32] So it’s working with our internal partners to say, if we work with…there’s 2E,
which is another part of the business. If they are willing to work with us, we can
cofund restoration and preservation projects where we could then do a joint
release, or we could remaster assets which would be then used for Blu-ray, DVD
sales as well as international TV sales.
[6:55] It’s a long process, as we’ve got about 120,000 assets, tape physical
assets, in our library at the moment, and as I said those are made up of 1 inch,
2 inch, Beta SP, DigiBeta, D3, and HD. It’s a very slow turning wheel. I’m sure
in 15, 20 years’ time we’ll be thinking about how we’re going to get rid of our
HDCAM SR tapes.
[7:21] At the moment, the idea is we digitize the asset. If it needs restoration,
there is some digital restoration work that can be carried out to remove some of
the older artifacts within the material. We then store an uncompressed version
of that. It takes up a huge amount of space. For an hour program, could take
anything up to 200 gigs worth of disk space.
[7:43] We’re then looking to store those assets on a non-spinning disk. We’ll put
them on an LTO5 type system. At that point, we will also create a working mezzanine
file, a file that is regarded as broadcast quality, either standard definition
or high-definition mezzanine file format, which we could then work with. We can
then take that mezzanine file and then transcode it onto a lower bit rate or to a
specific platform’s requirements.
[8:16] The other problem we have is that within BBC Worldwide, amazing as
it may sound, we don’t actually have a single vision of the truth. We have a
vast number of assets spread across a multitude of libraries. We’ve got library
storage in LA, New York, Germany, France, the UK, Australia, Japan, and
Hong Kong.
[8:37] We have multiple foreign language versions, so that could be a program
which has an English language track on it. It could also have a foreign language
audio dub on it. It may have subtitles associated to it. It may have a slight different
variation or a different edit compared to the main master that was originally
produced in the UK.
[8:57] We’re going through, at the moment, a huge piece of work which is about
looking at our assets across the globe and evaluating those lists and producing
a single vision of the truth.
[9:09] That’s to say, this is what our product catalog looks like. Let’s say we own
a 120,000 assets. Each asset may have a number of different versions relating to
that given title. We’re having to trawl through Excel spreadsheets, Word documents,
Access databases, and really do a huge data mining exercise to evaluate
and organize all that material together.
[9:34] There’s no easy way of doing it apart from drawing in all that information
and then finding common fields within that data to then help us evaluate
whether or not we should be keeping those assets, or whether or not we’ve got
duplications.
[9:49] The first exercise is to delete the duplication, but ensure that in deleting
the duplication, it really is a duplication. There’s quite a lot of manual thumbing.
Then it’s a case of evaluating the content in a world of sales. That’s what we’re
all about.
[10:05] BBC Worldwide is about selling content internationally, but at the same
time we have a role to play in terms of maintaining the historical assets to insure
that nothing is lost.
[10:16] I mean, it’s very interesting. We’ve just been looking at some David
Attenborough material which was shot on 16mm film that was shot. I think it was
about 30 years ago, on film. But when they transferred it onto videotape, they
did it in quite a crude manner. The action, what was broadcast at the time, and
what you look at now doesn’t look great.
[10:37] But we’ve gone back to the film, and we’ve gone back and we’ve cleaned
the film up, we’ve dusted it, they call it dust busting. But it’s the removal of any
foreign artifacts, and re-transcode it, re-telecine that, or scanned it into a far
system. The quality is phenomenal.
[10:53] By going through and actually trawling these assets, we really are finding
that we’ve got some gems hidden away. We’ve known they were gems, but it’s
only when you go back to the actual master source, do you realize that it really
is fantastic quality.
[11:05] In answer to your question, I guess, the organization, to how do we actually
deal with the long issue of it, we have to understand it first. That’s something
which we’re only just starting to do. At that point, we can then prioritize
what we absolutely must keep in terms of historical, what we can lose, because
it’s duplicated, or it doesn’t have a perceived value within the business.
[11:27] It’s a case of picking the content that is of the least quality first, really,
so we know that our 2 inch and 1 inch material, it really is falling apart. It’s old
magnetic tape that we need to capture and turn into a digital file as soon as
possible, or we do run the risk of losing it. Then working through the D3 and
then the B2SP, then, eventually, we’ll be moving on to our DigiBeta, as well. But
it’s a lengthy process.
Henrik: [11:53] That’s an excellent example of how do you determine value
and what are valuable digital assets. [11:59] Lastly, what advice would you
like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM
professionals?
Ben: [12:03] People wanting to become DAM professionals, certainly within
a broadcast environment, the details around the previous questions say a lot
about what it takes to become a DAM professional. That is, attention to detail,
and the process of reviewing data from multiple sources to come up with, as I
said, this idea of a single vision of the truth. It’s the accuracy needs to be applied
when reviewing content. [12:31] It’s the methodical, patient view, analytical,
as well, to insure that where trends are taking place, where irregularities are
taking place, where mistakes are being made, they’re being picked up.
[12:46] Having a great deal of patience with Excel at the moment is a good
place to start.
Henrik: [12:51] Yes.
Ben: [12:52] It’s amazing how many broadcasts, from my previous job, working
at ITV, where I was head of content management and now moving to the BBC
here. It’s amazing. ITV is the largest commercial broadcaster in the UK. BBC
Worldwide is renowned for being the Europe’s largest distributor of broadcast
material. [13:17] I’ve come from fairly weighty backgrounds, but those businesses
are driven by Excel at the moment. They are going into a world where we’re
building systems, building new platforms. We’ve just announced at IBC this year
that we are now partnering with Sony DADC, who are Sony Pictures’ chosen
partner for distribution of content globally.
[13:40] The relationships that are being forged are based on the fact that we’re
trying to get away from an Excel business. Which is laughable, to one degree,
but brilliant for Microsoft, certainly. [laughter]
[13:50] If they knew just how, the strength of those pieces of software for us.
[13:54] But for the professional who is, certainly, there is an understanding, as I
said, about the patience and accuracy. There’s also having a peripheral technical
view on the industry that they choose. I can’t talk for any other industry, really,
other than broadcast.
[14:12] There is a base level of understanding within digital and technology that
needs to be taken on board. Then, there’s the broadcast element, can talk
about digital broadcast, talk about editing, you could talk about transcoding.
You could also get very lost in the jargon.
[14:28] Some people, that’s suits them well, in terms of, they take a given career
within their industry. But being able to cut through the jargon and explain it
on a simple level, insure that what they’re saying is understood is, I mean, I
think it speaks for a lot of industries, I’m sure. But it’s amazing how complicated
it can get.
[14:49] But actually, it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Because you’re
crossing in so many different disciplines, it does become complicated. It’s how
to see the complication, but find the simplistic way of putting that information
across to insure that your point is being made.
Henrik: [15:05] Well, thank you, Ben. [15:06] For more on Digital Asset
Management, log onto AnotherDAMblog.com. Another DAM Podcast
is available on Audioboo , Blubrry, iTunes and the Tech Podcast network.
Thanks again.