During the Insight Exchange Network conference about Digital Asset Management (DAM) on January 23, 2018, a panel discussion was recorded on the topic of paradigm shifts in DAM.
Frank Decarlo, Chief Operating Officer, RPR Graphics, Inc.
Kevin Groome, Founder and General Manager, Pica9, Inc.
Lilli Schestag, Senior Digital Asset Manager
Rebecca Schneider, Executive Director, Content at AvenueCX
Henrik de Gyor, Chief Consultant, Another DAM Consultancy
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.
Moderated by Henrik de Gyor
Below is the unedited audio recording of this panel discussion (Duration: 65 minutes)
Henrik de Gyor: This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Dan Piro. Dan, how are you?
Dan Piro: Good. How are you?
Henrik de Gyor: Great. Dan, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Dan Piro: I’m the Director of Digital Asset Archive with the National Hockey League. I oversee a team that’s responsible for ingesting video, digitization projects, metadata application, metadata integrity, and we work alongside of the post-production team here, NHL Studios to support their media needs and also the NHL Network and work together, solve problems, and help them create compelling content.
Henrik de Gyor: Dan, how does a professional ice hockey league use Digital Asset Management?
Dan Piro: Primarily we use it to send and receive media and to archive it. We have coming in from 30 arenas around the continent every game and you can have up to 15 a night. You get three feeds of the game from the time they press record, you’re talking four or five hours which can add up to 250-300 hours in a single night. So, you have all that material coming in and where you used to have to wait for tapes to come in by FedEx and that type of thing, now we have all the previous night’s games available for the start of the next work day. Our broadcast partners, our internal departments can use it. We get our photos coming in from photographers around the league and just bringing all this material together and having it at our fingertips in a very short timeframe allows us to like I said earlier, create compelling content, create it sooner and get it out the door.
Henrik de Gyor: Dan, what are the biggest challenges and success you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Dan Piro: Well, the biggest challenge I was cast with when I came aboard here at the NHL a little over two years ago was to digitize all the physical archives ahead of our centennial anniversary. If there’s any hockey fans listening, they would know that we got the NHL 100 branding all over the league this year. And to prepare for that, we had a very short timeframe to digitize 150,000 or so videotapes, a half a million still images, slides, negatives prints, over a million documents that our PR department had and that’s game sheets which are the scorecards that the official scorer keeps in the arenas. That dates back to the second season, so we’re talking as far back as 1918.
And statistics records back to the very beginning of the league. Back then, they kept these huge ledgers throughout the season and every goal was marked down, every assist was marked down in these huge ledgers and we had to get all that content scanned and have it all ready to go so that we could celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the league. So as you can imagine, just the logistics of moving all that physical material around from various locations to various vendors; that’s a nightmare in and of itself. But we have a great team, our archive manager is the most organized guy I think I’ve ever met in my life and his system to track all this stuff and make sure we got everything back really saved the day for us.
I had a team of 15 people working to ingest this content, QC it, verify that we’re getting a file back for everything that went out the door. It was just a massive, massive undertaking which at the same time that we were doing all this work, we were setting up a new DAM system. With the new DAM, we’re bringing all this content into the new DAM trying to dig into all of our legacy databases from our videotape database, to our scoring database and pull as much of the information that we can from there and map it to the data fields in the new DAM. Just a massive, massive project to get this thing stood up and ready to go and bring in future and current content at the same time. It was a huge challenge and I’m happy to say that from physical archive perspective, it was very successful, but going forward, there’s always new challenges and new things to tackle when you set up a system like that.
One of the other things we had to deal with in bringing all this content in, these half million images that was scanned, much of it had no data associated with it as far as who the players were, who the teams were that were pictured in these photos. This team of 15 hockey experts, subject matter experts came in and were able to look at these phots one by one and when you might not be able to tell just by looking at something, who these players are, these guys did incredible research to … if a player was shown taking a shot and he’s half-turned and you can see that his jersey number ends with either a three or an eight and his name ends with E-R, and it’s a blue jersey, who is he? And what year is it? And judging from the equipment the guy is wearing, whether they’re left-handed or right-handed, the advertisements on the boards in the background, all these things went into researching who these guys are and tagging them and giving those photos values. When you’re setting up these systems there’s no point if you don’t apply the proper metadata along with that. Kind of all one project but all these different spokes to the project were really the challenges that we faced and at the same time, some of the success that we had.
Henrik de Gyor: What advice would you like to share with young professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Dan Piro: I think we talked about this a little bit, a couple years ago when we did the podcast, and in the digital world that we’re living in now, I think everybody’s kind of a media manager. I sort of equated it to managing an iTunes library back in the day. And now with your DVR and backing up your phone and having an iCloud and all of these things that are part of everyday life and becoming more and more ubiquitous are really just a small scale of what media managers do professionally. You just have to scale that up to what the needs are in a multi-billion dollar corporation.
In terms of advice, if you’re organized with your personal media and you understand how to handle those practices, you can start to apply that at the entry level and then learn how larger companies do this type of thing. I think the interesting thing that’s happening in the DAM industry is that people are now coming out of school having studied to do this kind of work where historically, I think people from the era when I got into it were people that were industry professionals and they fell into it. Whether you were running a tape, library, or you’re a production manager and you fell into this asset management world, now these people are coming up studying how to do it. That’s great but I think that people that come in with that type of background are probably going to be very stuck in their ways a little bit. “This is how I was taught it should be done, this is how we need to apply these procedures”.
I would say that they should reach out to the many departments and people that they’ll be interacting with and learn how they work because in most cases, a DAM is a supporting role much like a supporting actor is trying to help the lead shine. That’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re finding ways to help the company shine and generate revenue off of what we’re doing. But we’re not necessarily the revenue generator. I think you need to keep that in mind and understand that you’re part of a larger team and it’s not just about the best way for you to manage assets, but the best way for the assets that you manage to serve the company that you work for.
Finally, the one thing that I beat like a dead horse to all of the more entry level people that I work with is network and don’t burn bridges. Your network is what helps you succeed in the industry. That’s how you get jobs, that’s how you meet people, that’s how you make the contacts for the job that you want. It’s very important to have your Linkedin account set up and have it up to date and make sure that you’re constantly keeping in touch with all of the people that you interacted with professionally. It’s very easy today to contact people that you’ve worked with in the past without being a pain in their butt.
I remember when I was getting in making phone calls to people that I’d run into and they just don’t have the time of day to take calls and do that type of thing. But you can easily send a message that they can get back to you at their convenience. The current era is the easiest era to network ever because you just have to search people, and use that to your advantage. Networking is really the key factor that I’ve had in my success I think.
Henrik de Gyor: Great. Well, thanks Dan.
Dan Piro: Thanks.
Henrik de Gyor: For more on this and other Digital Asset Management topics, go to anotherdampodcast.com where you’ll find another 190 other episodes like this. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. Thanks again.