Rob Schuman discusses Digital Asset Management
Henrik de Gyor: [0:01] This is Another DAM podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor.
Today, I’m speaking with Rob Schuman.
Rob, how are you?
Rob Schuman: [0:10] Great.
Henrik: [0:11] Rob, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Rob: [0:14] Well, I got involved about 12 years ago, which was early for Digital Asset Management. Right now, I’m a general consultant. I help people organize, choose vendors, and help them implement the big change management that comes along with any DAM system. Also, advise people on technical issues of how to set up a DAM system that works well for everyone.
[0:39] Back when I was at Sesame Workshop, which was then called Children’s Television Workshop, the Sesame Street producers asked me if there was any way they could view their library without having to go up to the library and pull cassettes and cue up cassettes and all of that. The executive producers had a problem that they were reusing the same clips over and over and over again because those were the ones that people knew in their heads, while clips that were just as good were sitting in the library idle because no one wanted to take the time to go and find them.
[1:13] We said we’d do what we could, and about a year later, we developed one of the first DAM systems for video and television. It was very early in the DAM marketplace, and we believed it was the first or one of the first video Digital Asset Management systems. It was completely homegrown. We had any number of metadata fields and attached them to both proxy video and broadcast-quality video.
[1:41] We also were one of the first to include DAM as part of their workflow. It made producing the show so much easier, got them to do segments, have the segments approved by the producer, then get them right down into the edit room to complete them. I worked for Merck, the drug manufacturing company, and right now, I’m at the New York City Ballet. I call myself “content agnostic” because ultimately every company has their content professionals.
[2:11] They don’t need me to produce content for them. They need me to organize that content and make sure everybody has access to it and make sure that their workflows are automated. They don’t really need another person on content. Really, assets are assets, whether they’re talking about drugs, dance, or Sesame Street. I laugh that I worked for Sesame Street and Dow Jones, and the work is basically the same.
Henrik: [2:45] Organizing information?
Rob: [2:46] Yup, and making sure they can find it.
Henrik: [2:49] Yeah, very key. How does an organization focused on ballet use Digital Asset Management?
Rob: [2:56] Unlike music where there’s a score, dance is really a visual medium. Back in the mid 1980s, somebody had the idea of taking a VHS camcorder and sticking it up on the front of the balcony and taping the ballets. That stayed on VHS for a very long time, updated a little bit when camcorders became digital. They have a library of about 2, 500 or more performances.
[3:26] They have some rehearsals. It’s all on VHS tape. They got a grant from a government group called “Saving America’s Treasures” to try to rescue these. The New York City Ballet has this school so that the students could study choreographers like Balanchine or Jerome Robbins. What they’ve done is built their own Digital Asset Management in just stations.
[3:53] Right now, the theater has been redone with high-definition control room and high-definition cameras. All of the ballets or most of them are recorded as files, which we then add a whole lot of metadata to and put into their asset management system for anyone to find. You can look by choreographer by, of course, the date, and the musical piece.
[4:20] You can look at, “Let’s see all the variations of ‘The Nutcracker'” or “Let’s compare this choreographer’s version to that choreographer’s version.” They’re just starting to get to the launch of this. They want to put a computer and monitor in every dance studio that they’ve got. They have, I think, nine of them, including the ones from the school, so that they can work with the students and show them exactly how it’s done. Video is the only way to capture a live performance, and that’s what they do.
Henrik: [4:50] That’s great. Rob, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Rob: [4:57] The biggest challenge is the one that almost everybody faces. People think it’s choosing a DAM system or the technology you use or the metadata schema that you use, but really, it’s making sure that your customers are happy that there’s an acceptance of workflow changes. I’ve worked at places with both.
[5:18] At Sesame Street, we never really launched the DAM system, because by the time it came for the date to launch it, everybody had it. People saw it in beta and said, “I need this. I don’t care that it’s not ready. I don’t care, I’ll report bugs, but I want to use this.” That was a big success.
[5:37] At a big company like Merck, management came down and said, “We’re going to use this Digital Asset Management system,” and there was so much resistance. People were just tossing assets in there. There was a lot of metadata management that had to go followed up and a lot of wasted time, effort and energy that if you start with getting the folks enthusiastic, and if you get as close to their current workflows as possible and come in with the attitude that this is not something that management is demanding.
[6:12] This is something that will make your work easier and make you more productive. One example of that, again going back to Sesame Street, one day a woman came into my office in tears because she realized that the DAM system would be down over the weekend for some maintenance. She needed to get something done by Monday or her boss was going to be very angry with her, and she was just so afraid of that.
[6:39] I told her I would talk to her boss and smooth things out, but we still needed to maintain the system. But later, it occurred to me that that’s exactly how a successful DAM should be working. You should be upset if you can’t use it or if the system goes down, because it’s so critical to your work.
[6:58] Some more successfully than others tried to get across that being enthusiastic about the DAM and getting people on your side early in the game is the most important thing. The usual challenge, which is getting people on board and making sure that everything works, technology is changing so rapidly. One of the biggest challenges in DAM right now is the user interfaces.
[7:28] A lot of the systems that I’ve seen are really great on the back end, but forget that there are people on the front end who really need to be coaxed along, just throwing up a series of fields for them to fill in this form. It doesn’t help unless there’s a counteraction of, well, instead of having to write this on paper, or I can find stuff later if I put metadata on it now. Of course, there’s always the ‘metadata policeman’ who has to go in and look at everything going into the system.
Henrik: [8:01] We’re all familiar with those [laughs] , since we do those tasks regularly or we have in the past.
Rob: [8:08] One thing I did at Merck was I put a sign on my cubicle there that said, I thought “DAM” was too violent a word, even though we all like using it. I said this was “Marketing Operations Management,” and I thought “MOM”. Let’s call it the “MOM” system.
Henrik: [8:28] Rob, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Rob: [8:33] Basically, the only real advice I can give is to go for it. It’s a young and growing area of computer and personal information and marketing information. I’d say study what you can. Ask questions. Learn about metadata. Learn from others. Go to the DAM meet-up to meet people and find out what they’re doing. Then, if you can, get the exposure to a DAM system.
[9:04] You don’t really need to go back to school for a full library degree to understand basic metadata. There’s a need for entry-level people to actually be the ‘metadata policemen’ and enter things into the DAM system. Generally, the person who is in charge of it doesn’t really have the time, particularly for the large systems, to go over what’s going in, to be the ‘metadata police’, so to speak, and make sure that the DAM system is loaded with all of the proper information.
[9:35] I used to advise television people, “Just go and get the exposure to it and show that you’re interested. Volunteer to do some stuff. Sure enough, when they need somebody, they’re going to turn to you, or somebody else is going to need somebody, they’re going to turn to you and get you started at a career.”
Henrik: [9:54] Well, thanks Rob.
Rob: [9:55] Rob: You’re welcome.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again.
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