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Feature

No Longer A Pain In The Asset

Digital asset-management tools let companies manage unstructured data.
But Mander and Kotrch won't relax. They're both proud of the system and conscious of how necessary it was, but they also say it will increase the workload of the IT staff going forward, because the staff will be expected to maintain the functionality. The flip side is that it should result in fewer storage and bandwidth concerns.

"It makes us sleep better at night knowing that all this stuff is secure," Mander says. Neither she nor Kotrch would reveal the amount of Simon & Schuster's investment in the system, but Kotrch says "it was worth the money." Two-thirds of the cost went to project management, building processes, and training employees on using the system, while the remaining one-third was spent on software and hardware.

Ironically, many entertainment companies, once the primary target of digital asset-management vendors, have found themselves behind on such initiatives after establishing an initial focus on repurposing content for consumers. Those efforts have stalled, and now such companies are turning their attention to internal deployments.

Gray Ainsworth -- Photo by Bryce Duffy/Corbis Saba

MGM's decision to move ahead on a digital asset-management project was necessitated by ad hoc practices that were evolving throughout the company, says Ainsworth, senior VP of technical services.
Two years after it enlisted Sonic Foundry Inc. to build a mock digital-asset management system, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is finally zeroing in on a vendor to help it develop a digital asset-management system. During the past several weeks, a field of 30 contenders has been whittled down to three (the studio wouldn't divulge the names of the finalists or whether Sonic Foundry is among them). A final decision is expected sometime this month, says Gray Ainsworth, senior VP of technical services.

Like Coca-Cola a few years back, MGM's decision to move ahead on its digital asset-management project was necessitated by the ad hoc practices that were evolving throughout the company. "Different departments usually go out and do their own thing and thus create the same thing over and over again," Ainsworth says. "We want a companywide solution."

The first task facing the winning vendor is to develop what Ainsworth calls a "mother ship of a site" that will serve as an online document and image library filled with scripts, music cue sheets, staff bios, and publicity photos. Eventually, film clips will be added.

Once it's in place, he says, the system will yield huge time-savings by making it possible to access content electronically and manipulate it digitally. Promotional materials for films will be logically linked to related assets as diverse as soundtracks, rights information, and sales histories. Employees will no longer have to stand over copy machines or burn CD-ROMs, and the studio will become more efficient in developing marketing campaigns and licensing its content, Ainsworth says.

Just about every department is likely to benefit. Consider a scenario in which MGM's legal department is working with an actor who says he feels pain from an injury suffered while performing a stunt in a film 10 years earlier. Without a digital asset-management system, Ainsworth says, it would take days for attorneys to view the clip, review the credits and actor's agreement, then order the various elements from multiple locations. With digital asset management, that same assortment of information could be accessed in minutes. "Voilà," Ainsworth says. "Instant settlement."

Ainsworth hopes that once the bandwidth and rights issues have been overcome, the digital asset-management system will grow into an electronic media distribution tool. That represents the Holy Grail for the entertainment business and the realization of digital asset management's early promise, namely, meeting the public's demand to digitally consume media from home and via mobile devices while protecting the owners' rights and assets. But companies not in the business of reselling their digital assets can realize just as much long-term value from digital asset management as their counterparts in the movie industry, he says.

"Assets are assets. To us, it means feature films and television. To Coca-Cola it's something else, and to Chase Manhattan it's something else," Ainsworth says. "Companies just need to understand what their assets are, what information they need about those assets, and how those assets are used."

Photo of Gray Ainsworth by Bryce Duffy/Corbis Saba