Henrik de Gyor: This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today, I’m speaking with Dan Rosenberg.
Dan, how are you?
Dan Rosenberg: I’m doing well, Henrik. How are you today?
Henrik de Gyor: Dan, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Dan Rosenberg: Well, my first job out of college was I started actually in the tape library at WWE in Stamford, Connecticut. Through some twists and turns, I took on some side projects and ended up digitizing edited shows from tape, wrapping them with metadata, and sending them out to cable and satellite companies for WWE 24/7, which, at the time, was one of the most expensive video on demand [VOD] services. Through the success of that platform, this encouraged WWE to embark on a massive digitization project and make its entire 100,000-hour tape library accessible to hundreds of producers and editors all on a searchable database.
I eventually got to take on the number-two position in WWE’s new Digital Asset Management Department and eventually head my own team, which was in charge of archives and restore operations, digital delivery, disaster recovery, storage management. We eventually ended up supporting and building out a system. We educated the users, we trained them, and this eventually made it possible for WWE to launch its own OTT network, which combined a 24-hour live stream with an incredibly rich on-demand anthology which was accessible through almost any device. The other major win that we got out of that was that every ingested video asset would get a low-res proxy, which could be viewed and edited by the low-res … excuse me, by the live show production teams prior to retrieval. This ability to have full resolution assets restored very quickly from the LTO library and dynamically relinked to sequences was a major leap forward for WWE and the quick-turn demands during the weekly live shows where historical events are constantly referenced and storyline changes occur at the drop of a hat.
A lot of these offerings and workflows are much more commonplace today, but WWE always seemed to be ahead of the curve when it comes to video. I was very fortunate to be there for nine years actually, starting in 2005, working with some of the best mentors and teammates imaginable. We grew the department from two of us to start to nearly 30 by the time I left. This was just an exceptional learning experience which allowed me to be prepared when the opportunity arose to start a team here at Time Inc., where I’ve been since 2014.
Henrik de Gyor: Dan, how does one of the largest media publishers use Digital Asset Management?
Dan Rosenberg: Well, people all over the world are familiar with the Time Inc. titles, or brands as we call them, like Time and People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Essence, to name a few. Time Inc. has really spent the last several years redefining its image and the space it occupies in the mediascape. While we still maintain the outstanding print journalism and photography, which has been the hallmark of the company for nearly a century, we’re seeing the most explosive growth in the video realm. When I was hired three years ago, the brand teams were already turning out content at a breakneck pace, everything from quick news hits to digital features accompanying the articles on our ONO website to long-form documentary series, such as the massively successful Year in Space, which we’ve had many iterations of over the last year. Time Inc. has really been able to serve a varied audience with its varied titles. We have Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Southern Living, People en Espanol. Everywhere there’s an incredible demand for video, the company can be there.
The major challenge that we’ve dealt with as we’re growing faster than the technology in place could keep up … So when I started here, the 80 or so people on the video staff, not all were connected to central storage. The only archives we had were external hard drives of varying sizes, which were mostly stored in producers’ desk drawers, which is not exactly secure. There was no searchability or rich metadata attached to any of these video assets, so there was no way to know what reservoirs of content were being left untapped. We began a process where we would talk to similar-size video outlets with comparable output to see how they were using asset management systems to both store content and standardize workflows across the internal teams and external distribution based on media type.
After some site visits, proof of concepts, and extensive customization, we began to beta test our new video MAM system with some of our most skilled editorial team members and really let them kick the crap out of it. Then we simultaneously began populating our system with as many current and legacy assets as we had the bandwidth at our small team at the time to process, ’cause no one is really going to see the user value of an empty system. So we wanted to have as much available to the users as possible when it came time to do a general onboarding so we could say, “Hey, look at all this great video you can search for and use right away,” which was brand new for everybody here.
So the video staff, which was 80 3 years ago, it’s now over 300. We have 150 editors across about 25 of our flagship brands who are using our man every day. They access it and help us grow the archive. Through that, we’ve been able to support the teams that have gotten the company up to a billion monthly streams across our onsites. Company launched the People TV OTT platform, and just this week, we launched our Sports Illustrated OTT subscription VOD service. We rely heavily on the feedback from everybody, really across the board, to tell us what’s working and what’s not and also to champion the implementation of our metadata schemas, taxonomy, disaster recovery procedures, all these things that people don’t necessarily think about on a daily basis unless you’re in our field. It’s all really a lot of work for all the teams that are involved. It’s also really a lot of fun working with such a diverse group of people and content and for one of the most historically significant media companies around.
Henrik de Gyor: Dan, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Dan Rosenberg: Well, certainly lots of challenges. It can be tough not to feel overwhelmed by the vast quantity of incoming content every day, and all of it needs to be attended to one way or another. Not only is new media coming out of, constantly, from our NYC-based teams but we have producers and studios in every timezone across the country and contributors sending clips from really all over the world. And then we have the seemingly endless set of legacy content in which the metadata is inconsistent at best. Sometimes you get lucky and the producers have been great about standardizing naming conventions and keeping meticulous notes or spreadsheets. A lot of other times, it can just be, “Here, take this. I have no idea what’s on it. Have a good time.”
From a metadata standpoint, when it comes to challenges, you don’t really want to reinvent the wheel where you don’t have to. If you try stick with what’s already in place or what the users are familiar with to help increase adoption of new policy and just really help them feel comfortable. At Time Inc., we have such a vast photo and print archive that we at least had a jumping-off point to work with and some people here who have been here a while to really collaborate with. But so much of what we do in the video space is unique, and we have a branded and native content. We have a TV division that just released the Princess Diana documentary this past summer. So we all just have to work collaboratively and make the best decisions we can with the information available to us.
In terms of video-specific challenges, the technology, the cameras, the formats, it all changes what seems like every day. Producers are always going to want the latest and greatest so their videos look as good as possible. But we might not necessarily have the workflows in place to handle what just came out a week ago. So it’s important to keep the lines of communication with them open, manage their expectations, and have some approved workarounds in place if production demands actually denote using 8K or 16K or whatever is next down the pipe.
So for successes, it really seems like companies of all sizes have jumped into the digital space with two feet. They’re now coming up for air and realizing how seriously they have to take [digital] asset management or they’ll lose everything they’ve spent so much time and money investing in. I think there’s significantly more investment in technology but more importantly, the personnel around Digital Asset Management, and I think the return on investment for implementing comprehensive systems and having them run by motivated and driven people is nearly limitless. I’m also very encouraged with all the camaraderie I’m seeing in terms of digital asset professionals sharing their stories, networking, attending workshops and conferences, and of course, listening to informative podcasts like this. I think just the field is full of people who love what they do and really enjoy helping each other out and brainstorming solutions. It’s really energizing. It makes it fun to not only come to work every day but to be involved in the space.
Henrik de Gyor: Dan, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Dan Rosenberg: I think the most important thing is to understand that there’s no magic product that’s going to solve all your problems. There’s never going to be one solution to anything, so it’s crucial to do your research. One file that goes into our system hits at least six different pieces of technology from six different vendors during its life cycle, and getting everything to play nice isn’t always easy. You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel or do it all yourself to prove how smart you are. Chances are there’s a handful of people out there, whether internally or externally, who have seen a similar challenge and often they’re happy to help you out. So don’t be afraid to reach out to people within your network.
Also, I think it’s important to try to take in as much information as you can, document it, because in Digital Asset Management, we are the record keepers and people expect us to know where all the bodies are buried. So work in collaboration with your content teams, get involved as early as you can in their processes so you can understand them and help guide them. I’ve really found that 20 minutes on the front end of a project can save you days or weeks on the back end of trying to decipher what happened.
Some days it feels overwhelming, but you should have confidence in your methods and understand that everybody makes mistakes but what’s important is to learn and improve and refine. I also think it’s important to think like the clients or users and have their processes in mind. How are they creating things? How are they searching for things? How will they try and game the system if you let them? Everybody should be acting like teammates and working towards the same goals of putting the best products out there, but each segment of the business starts in a different place with different marching orders, so just getting everybody to understand asset management is the hub of where creation, innovation, distribution, and IT all come together. If you take the role seriously and have some fun, the people around you will too.