Making Sense — and Cents — With Metadata

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Settling in to watch a movie after a long day, a pay TV customer is scanning a menu of on-demand titles when she happens to notice that the actor Hugh Jackman plays a bit-part role in The Weinstein Co.’s 2011 comedy, Butter. Intrigued, the customer looks over a brightly rendered poster featuring the actress Jennifer Garner, reads a witty description, decides it’s worth the $3.99, and presses “select.”

Score one for metadata.

The digital code that identifies content, orchestrates availability windows and manages the interplay of digital advertising placement is the unsung hero of the modern video era. Handled well, metadata produces a unifi ed, cohesive and satisfying user experience while instructing digital video platforms about when, where and how a program should be presented. Managed poorly, metadata can yield botched promotional screens, produce unintelligible text descriptions and fail to make an off ered title disappear after its window expires.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to tumble into metadata chaos than it used to be. Differing standards among video distributors for everything from on-screen character counts to the optimal format for digital images — some distributors demand JPEGs, others insist on BMPs — have made metadata management a complicated process. Proper metadata application automatically creates the right JPEG or BMP. As “TV Everywhere” migration strategies take hold, the fi eld of play is only widening, and so are the odds of mistakes both visible and invisible.

Thankfully, that’s changing. New technologies are making it possible for programmers to move closer to a “write-once” process that dramatically reduces metadata workloads while ensuring that on-screen content and behind- the-scenes instructions work as they’re supposed to.

A combination of breakthroughs deserves credit. One is the cloud. By moving metadata from fi xed-hardware storage in multiple locations to a single cloud repository, it’s possible to move more quickly to adjust the business rules and decision logic embedded in metadata instructions. Programmers can now instantly make adjustments to a core metadata package and distribute the variation to an affi liate with a sharply reduced cycle time.

Another enabler is automated versioning. An example: Rather than task a designer with creating multiple versions of poster art to align with variations among on-screen guides, we can instead manipulate the data from a “mezzanine fi le” containing essential content and instructions to automatically and easily create the needed versions. The result: Poster art is transformed into the proper fi le format and on-screen size for various distributors without manual intervention.

Finally, Web-based user interfaces make it possible for programmers to revise and edit cloud-stored metadata fi les directly through intuitive, convenient tools.

As video increasingly pours out across more devices, more platforms and more screens, one competitive differentiator is going to be metadata management. Those who do it well will benefi t from higher viewership, more purchases and superior rights-management practices. The good news is that the tools to achieve those results are now available. Put them to use, and your metadata will be sure to thank you.

David Mowrey is the vice president of product management at Clearleap, a multiscreen video logistics provider based in Atlanta.