1 Understanding Media Asset Management A Plain English Guide for Printing Communications Professionals Interest in Media Asset Management is growing dramatically. A growing number of software and service providers are entering into the market. Industry conferences are hosting panels on the subject in large numbers, and the press is covering this topic in great detail almost on a monthly basis. But what is media asset management and why should you get excited about it? This document introduces what it is, how it works, why you should invest in it and how to get started. Executive Summary Media asset management is the systematic capture and control of content, information and knowledge used in the media creation process. Its first order benefits are operational, including lower out of pocket costs, faster turnaround, flexible output, and day to day control over the process of production. These in turn lead to a second order of competitive advantages: creative empowerment and more consistent branding across executions and media; strategic agility to engage fast changing markets with more customized and relevant messages; increased productivity realized as better operational margins, higher cash flow and new assets added to the balance sheet. Media asset management can improve the performance of any media producing business and its value chain suppliers. The extent of its benefits and return-on-investment depend on the organizations size, type, and operational complexity and its commitment to asset management as a core business practice. Naturally, system deployment costs and timing vary according to the same variables. The most extensive research in the field indicates average returns of 5 to 9 times investment. However, since realizing most of the benefits depends on successfully transforming production operations, making media asset management pay is a function of knowledge and understanding of production, not just installing and understanding technology. Media Creation Before expanding into a more detailed discussion of media asset management, stop and take a minute to think about how media products are created. Raw materials like photos, illustrations, text, scripts, animation, sound and video are manufactured into finished goods through intensely collaborative processes that combine elements of both mass production and custom piecework. Today, all this work revolves around specialized hardware, software, and storage devices at every stage. To an ever increasing degree, the interactions between media production
2 workers, the materials they handle and their co-workers, vendors and clients is conducted through computers and networks. Media Assets So what are media assets anyway? Media assets are the inputs used to produce finished media goods. These basic building blocks live scattered across the computer disk drives, random file folders, 3 ring binders, file cabinets, and collective memories of media producing organizations and their value chain suppliers of all sizes and types. By organizing media assets into distinct classes, we set the stage for better understanding them, controlling them and - to a greater degree than ever before- managing them as economic assets. The first and most obvious type of media asset is content elements - illustrations, photography, text, page layouts, or video for example. Information about such works, including their source, ownership, filetype and version, is also included in this category. A related but distinct media asset is processed content. This includes finished or unfinished works, like newspaper ads, package designs, sales presentations, or book covers, that represent one or more content elements which have undergone some creative or editorial processing. A third type of media asset is project information shared by co-workers to coordinate the various tasks in each stage of development. Examples include due dates, job numbers, project briefs, client comments, estimates, and workflow mappings. Finally, a less frequently discussed media asset is knowledge and experience applied by individuals and groups in their daily work. This includes published standards, guidelines, policies, specifications, and workflow processes. It often includes the unpublished and often isolated intelligence and expertise that so often pushes quality from pedestrian to outstanding. Examples include software workarounds, fresh insight into a competitive activity, or staying current on important industry trends. Whatever their form, resolution or tangibility, the significant property all media assets share is that they can be translated into a digital format. The critical challenge all media producing organizations face is that using and keeping track of all these digital files is becoming more time consuming and expensive with every campaign, execution and issue. As more and more organizations communicate in multiple and varied mediums concurrently, this problem will continue to be exacerbated over time. Media Asset Management Given this challenge, media asset management represents the opportunity to dramatically increase the productivity, competitiveness and market value of media production
3 operations through the systematic capture and control of media assets with computers linked to high bandwidth private and public networks. Most media asset management systems typically incorporate three operational components: a central library for housing content elements and other assets; functions for coordinating project development and workflow process; and reports for tracking asset utilization, project success and organizational effectiveness. Media Asset Libraries At its heart, a media asset management system provides a central library and interface for a companies entire collection of content files and other media assets. Using networked servers, databases, and data farms it extends access to this complete store of materials and information horizontally across workgroups and vertically up and down supply and distribution chains. Functioning as a virtual warehouse, all content is stored digitally. Centralization provides a number of advantages. People spend much less time naming and organizing files, looking for mis-filed assets, transferring content from computer drives to transportable media, or transferring files to others. Naming conventions, indexing and search functions reduce file searching time and increase accuracy. Making all assets available to everyone facilitates reuse and eliminates the cost of creating and maintaining redundant content elements. Desktop access eliminates bottlenecks around shared resources. And ownership, usage rights and royalty status can be always current and available. Workflow Coordination However, an asset management system is more than just a content library. It also incorporates functions to coordinate the production process itself, from concept all the way through publication and distribution. This extends to workflow the same benefits centralization affords content- universal access, complete resources and vastly streamlined interaction among co-workers, collaborators, and value chain suppliers. Job numbers, due dates, estimates, specifications, task assignments, and creative directions are all stored in a project folder created in the system by a production or project manager. Using this project-centric approach, co-workers with permission access whatever assets they need, post comments, get answers to frequently asked questions, investigate global knowledge bases or contact specialists working elsewhere in the organization. In progress or finished work is posted directly into the system for review and approval by other co-workers, legal departments, and remotely located clients and value chain suppliers. Comments and approvals can be delivered from anywhere in the world, avoiding bottlenecks and stoppages caused by out-of-town travel and schedule clashes.
4 Such workflow benefits can be extended beyond core design and production processes by integrating the media asset management system with other corporate legacy systems, such as accounting, legal, production vendors, clients, and the media. This cuts paperwork and redundant data entry associated with approving, billing, and shipping finished goods. Even more exciting is the potential for customization afforded by linking asset systems with customer databases. This sets the stage for mass customized brochures, catalogs, publications, and relationship marketing strategies based on output technologies like variable data printing and database driven, personalized one- to- one web sites and pages. Think of it as extending the idea of workflow full cycle to the purchase, consumption, service, and feedback of customers and end-users. Process Improvement A media asset management system records each and every transaction that goes through it. By capturing content and workflow data, it provides a basis for continuously monitoring and improving asset utilization and production workflows over time. Additionally, it becomes an enabler to build e-commerce solutions at the enterprise level. Production managers can use aggregated statistics form past jobs to improve scheduling and estimated costs. They can also improve their use of outside resources by entering product and service information, proposals and estimates and performance reviews for future review and analysis. Meanwhile, the studio manager can quantify individual, team and systems performance against predefined measures to improve evaluations, technology investments, training and task organization. Executive producers and creative directors can browse through portfolios while considering creative assignments. Account executives can provide trend analyses to justify budgets to clients. Strategic planners can associate content elements and finished executions with marketplace results and review or create case studies for additional insights. Totaling The Net Benefits Media asset management confers two orders of benefits. Asset centralization, workflow coordination and managerial feedback contribute on a primary level to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness at the enterprise, workgroup and individual levels. However, a second order of benefits, derived from the first, includes enhanced creative quality and more flexible, opportunistic and innovative strategic planning. Financially this adds up in substantial and quantifiable amounts on a media producing organization s income statement and balance sheet. Operational Efficiency
5 The individual and workgroup performance improvements described above add up operationally to lower out of pocket production costs, higher, more consistent output quality, faster project turnaround and a greater degree of day to day efficiency. Also improved are: the alignment of production capacity with changing project requirements; the acquisition, distribution and retention of organizational knowledge; the management of intellectual properties; the expense of technical support and maintenance. And, for larger companies in particular, controlling media assets can also help make investor relations, customer service, public relations, sales and trade show presentations and event sponsorships faster to produce, less expensive, more effective and more consistent with the whole communications effort. Creative Empowerment Central control of the technical and creative standards means better output quality and greater consistency across executions worldwide. Less time and difficulty finding the right resources means more time creating, more raw materials to choose from, and more finished options for more media. Clearer communication means less confusion and a tighter focus on problem solving. Also, by making it easier to publish across media, media asset management provides unprecedented creative freedom and power to add new dimensions to a concept at just the time when audience fragmentation, interactivity and e-commerce intensify the business necessity of do so. Strategic Agility Media asset management improves competitiveness by helping companies bring new products and promotions to market faster. It permits more tactical decision-making and initiative on local levels without sacrificing brand integrity or production quality. It enhances planning by providing a central platform for stories of knowledge like competitive intelligence and brand histories. It improves response rates by aligning content and results. It facilitates a more flexible, just in time, project model by making it easier to assemble and prepare teams. Interestingly, it also helps to lower the cost and operational barriers to strategic initiatives that represent the businesses of tomorrow: e-commerce, 1:1 marketing, mass customization and information based product innovation. Economic Value Operational efficiency, creative empowerment and strategic flexibility all add up to financially to greater workgroup, individual and asset productivity. Lower project and department management costs. Greater equity in more nimble, consistent and
6 dimensionalized brands and titles. New revenues through product and service innovations. These add up to better operating margins and cash flow. Also, controlling and tracking assets provides a basis for quantifying the market value of intellectual properties and systems used to create them; in other words, a basis for turning media assets in the production department into financial assets on the balance sheet. Developing and Deploying Systems Obviously the benefits of media asset management can be quite sweeping. But whether a system delivers multimedia objects around the world or simply stores references to offline files in a small studio, it has to do two things to be successful. First, it must be adopted by the people it was designed to support. Second, it must help them do things that give their brand, editorial and entertainment franchises a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Each function s contribution to the execution of a production task and the whole system s contribution to the achievement of a strategic objective requires careful consideration. Unfortunately, planning and deployment are often the most misunderstood and underestimated stages of development. Among the many critical success factors to keep in mind for planning are: thorough understanding of the business processes, problems and opportunities to be affected; real world experience using media asset management systems on the part of system architects and planners; systematic identification and organization of all assets to be catalogued, including an estimate of their economic value; and a clear vision of the system s likely growth requirements over time. And among those for deployment are: up-front and ongoing training and support for users; a rollout plan to test both technical and human performance; and systems for measuring and documenting the systems effectiveness in achieving its goals. The cost and timing to develop a media asset management system varies with the type and size of the organization, the complexity of its production processes and the operational, creative and strategic goals for the system. Technical Overview Whatever there scale, media asset management systems are based technically on database software, often running on dedicated computers. Those based on industry standards and object technology can grow and change over time and quickly and reliably integrate with other corporate legacy systems. User access is distributed through high bandwidth wide or local area telecommunication networks. And since technologies from competing companies usually aren t designed to work with each other, distributed systems often employ middleware. That is, custom
7 software based on industry standards that translates between incompatible systems. Middleware is used to integrate an asset management system with other organizational systems. Primary among the numerous technical success factors are: database support for the right file types, present and future; balancing on-line and off-line storage requirements; optimizing bandwidth throughout the system; complete understanding of relevant legacy environments; factoring in systemwide security requirements and implications, particularly where outside connections are involved; and standards- based development, including support for ODBC, SQL, CORBA, JAVA, WebObjects, EOF, etc. Conclusion Hopefully, that advantages of media asset management have been made clear: more productive media operations, stronger brand identities, increased competitiveness, and higher market valuation. It should be made clear that developing and installing a media asset management system is no small task. Realizing most of the benefits depends on successfully transforming production operations. Therefore, making media asset management pay is a function of understanding media production priorities, processes and values, clearly defining the function s role in the overall business strategy and investing in sound, scaleable technology that can grow and adapt to meet changing needs over time.