Cable Nets Taking the Lead In Digital Asset Management

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Cable networks and professional sports leagues are blazing the digital-asset management trail, a path that promises to lead to internal work efficiencies and external revenue sources.

Digital asset management, and its cousin, digital rights management, are all-encompassing terms that cover a lot of ground, including the digital encoding and storage of such video assets as news or sports highlights, TV programs, documentaries or movies.

They may also involve encryption, security and electronic-commerce features used to create content-based services, such as music-subscription packages for Internet users.

Digital asset-management systems also allow cable networks to "share" video clips with various departments within the company, such as marketing, promotions and programming.

Though digital asset-management software isn't limited to the media and entertainment industries, content providers — and cable programmers in particular — are clear leaders in the field.

"The first movers are the cable networks," says Carlos Montalvo, chief marketing officer at Virage Inc., a digital-asset management company that sports a long list of cable clients, including Cable News Network, ESPN, Fox Sports, Discovery Channel, Lifetime Television, Nickelodeon and C-SPAN.

Discovery Networks U.S. recently signed a deal with Virage to create and catalog the video clips from various Discovery networks that are available on Discovery.com and in TV promos.

In most cases, the clips are the first three minutes of a program that's about to run on either the flagship Discovery Channel or one of its siblings such as Animal Planet, The Learning Channel or Discovery Health Network.

"We like them because of their Web-based approach to video," said Discovery Networks director of new media John Herne. "And it's compatible with our asset-management systems."

The On TV previews, as they are known, are produced by the TV-network side of Discovery's business, Herne said.

"We wanted to move that preview programming out of the dot-com group and leave it with the networks," he said. "It's really a promotional space for the network's programming."

Six to seven clips from each Discovery service are posted to the Web at any one time, Herne said. Some networks, such as Discovery Health, update their clips every few days, while Discovery Channel and TLC focus on bigger specials and leave clips up for a whole week.

Streamed-video advertisements are becoming more prevalent, and Discovery has started to insert commercials before the clips. The Virage system makes that integration easier, Herne said.

"There's a buzz about streaming commercials," Herne said, adding that a clip for one of Discovery Channel's dinosaur specials
was preceded by an AT&T Broadband bumper ad.

"In the past, we had to encode the clip," Herne said. "With Virage, we can slip a separate video asset in to play before the preview."

Discovery also is using Virage to show clips from home videos available for purchase on its Web site.

Heren said the On TV video clips are accessed most often by Discovery.com's high-speed audience, which he estimates at between 15 percent and 20 percent of overall users.

The National Hockey League used Virage to create a video catalog of its playoff games and, as of April 11, gave fans the ability to view personalized player or team highlights.

At NHL.com, the league posted a broadband-TV section where fans could pick teams and individual players and access video-streamed highlights of, say, every goal Joe Sakic scored for the Colorado Avalanche. All the major events in a hockey game — shots, goals, assists or saves — were available for retrieval.

"Our demographic research indicates that our fans have more access to personal computers and tend to be more Internet-literate than fans in other professional sports, making this new service on nhl.com an ideal resource during the Stanley Cup playoffs," said NHL vice president of television and media ventures Doug Perlman.

The NHL declined to give specific usage statistics, but said activity was substantial. "We were very pleased with the 'My Custom Highlights' section and by Virage's performance this past spring," said Keith Ritter, president of NHL Ice and senior vice president of new business development.

The NHL posted highlights on the Internet three hours after each game ended, Ritter said. The heaviest periods of use by both broadband and narrowband subscribers came right after the game, in the morning and at lunch time.

Ritter said video was offered at 56 kilobits per second and 220 kpbs. There were 10 times more requests at 220 kpbs than at the slower speed, he said.

"We're still reviewing our plans for next year, but expect to offer our fans personalized highlights," Ritter said. Plans to syndicate NHL Internet content or develop subscription packages remain under consideration, he said.

Montalvo points out that the NHL has a large fan base in many markets where there are no NHL teams. But the Internet can reach everyone.

"Fans can tap into nhl.com 24/7," he said.

Most cable networks have an advantage over other content providers, Montalvo said.

"They own their content outright. There is little or no confusion about intellectual property. They know their subscriber base and it's faster for them to microcast," or send pieces across the Internet to end users.

A second first-mover advantage, he said, is that cable networks don't have to produce new content from scratch for the Internet. "That sets them apart from the DENs and Psuedos of the world," he said. Very few original Internet-content owners have survived the recent economic downturn.

And cable networks have mountains of content that could be exploited in a broadband world, Montalvo said.

"CNN has years of content, and very little of that has made it to the air, let alone the Web," he said. "They own their content. They don't have to re-shoot it. They can take existing shows, and choice cuts from their B-Roll and put it on Web."

Virage's video application server and VideoLogger help content providers to log and store video content. The latter extracts information, such as keyframes, time codes, text information, speaker names, spoken words and audio profiles.

CNN can search its database for "Firestone tires" or "Jenna Bush," and instantly retrieve all video clips that pertain to those subjects.

The video-application server allows content providers to integrate video with advanced applications, such as advertising, commerce, rights management, personalization or syndication.

Montalvo calls CNN's or ESPN's ability to potentially open their library of video material to the Web "purposeful repurposing."

Allowing consumers to search, pick and choose makes a lot of sense, he said.

"It's interactive, it's nonlinear and it's a deeper experience," said Montalvo. "The cable companies got that. With cable, we're creating a new programming artifact, not competing with existing artifact. News, sports, infotainment — all of that lends itself to re-purposing.

"The first movers set the rules," he added.

Inside the firewall, companies like Boeing Corp., Nike Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co. are managing their digital-video assets, whether it's video advertising, product training or marketing promotions, he said. Outside the firewall, it's entertainment companies that are leading the charge, he added.

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