Managing Digital Media at the Studio Level
Phase Zero of the MARS roll-out began around budget time two years ago,
after several Warner Bros. business units made requests for funding to
create and implement an asset management system to catalog and
distribute the studio’s advertising and publicity materials. The studio
began investigating its options during a seven-week planning and
feasibility stage, when it sought to determine whether an
enterprise-wide solution was advisable, or even viable. "At that point,
we knew just enough to be dangerous," recalls WB executive VP of
distribution & technology Darcy Antonellis. "It was our first shot
at handling a DAM solution of this scale, and we went into it fairly
naively. We didn’t have any preconceived notions of what we should or
shouldn’t do. We tried to take a ground-up approach."
That’s why WB turned to Accenture, a global management consulting,
technology services and outsourcing company, to work with members from
WB’s technical operations division, business units and the MIS division.
"The approach to programs of this nature is very different from a
traditional back-office financial or accounting system," notes
Accenture partner David Wolf, describing the role of the company
throughout the project. "We brought detailed requirements to the table,
which jumpstarted the process. We started with a blueprint that we
refined working with the various business units, and then we laid out a
roadmap of multiple releases of how to implement this. When we went
into implementation, we brought in people who knew how to configure and
install the application and people who knew how to build and design the
technical requirements, including designing the storage architecture in
a cost-effective manner."
Why They Needed It
Talk about asset-management accidents waiting to happen. Warner Bros.
released The Matrix Revolutions on 18,013 film prints simultaneously in
107 countries, with DVD and VHS releases following six months later. To
boot, the studio had 44 "consumer products" licensing contracts in 15
countries. To pull off a global release on this scale, solid
asset-management systems were essential.
Greenlighting An Enterprise-Wide Project
The first major realization was that creating five different solutions
to serve five business units would not be the most efficient path,
which prompted a greenlight for the enterprise-wide MARS project. From
the beginning, representatives of each of the business units impacted
by the results were involved. "They were stakeholders in the entire
process," says Antonellis. "We were and continue to be very sensitive
to the fact that each business unit needs to be able to focus on its
business and have its ownÃ¢Â€Â˜brand,’ as the first of view to their
licensees and clients. It was critical that, while the asset repository
was common, each business unit had theirÃ¢Â€Â˜branded’ Web site or portal
that accessed it."
The business units involved included Warner Home Video Worldwide,
international theatrical, international television, consumer products,
corporate marketing and advertising, and corporate image archives. More
recently, additional units have been brought into MARS, including
domestic theatrical and the WB Networks.
Breaking It Down
" Warner Bros. needed a solution not only to be used across multiple
divisions but also offering easy installation, robust functionality and
configurable features," says North Plains President and CEO Hassan
Kotob. Kotob ticks off the specific DAM needs for each WB business
unit: "Consumer Products Licensing needed a B2B Web-based distribution
mechanism to serve 2500+ global licensees; Warner Home Video needed an
external vendor-collaboration system and legacy B2B portal integration
functionality; Marketing and Advertising Services wanted an internal
print and video workflow and collaboration tools; International
Pictures needed a global distribution solution; and Corporate Image
Archive wanted to migrate its 400,000 images and 1400 users to an
North Plains offers what Kotob calls a "hybrid solution," using the
patent-pending TeleScope Hybrid File System. "Stand-alone asset
repositories quickly become departmental level silos- and catalog
systems rapidly lose database synchronicity," Kotob adds. TeleScope
also offers a Look Up Broker for consolidation of diverse data within
one simple interface, Digital Rights Management, Workflow Automation
and the XML Gateway, which provides a seamless way to share assets with
other systems. TeleScope also supports all metadata standards with
MIMiX (a metadata container) and offers full support of Adobe XMP (XML
metadata platform), which enables users to transfer assets from one
system to another and retain the metadata. North Plains’ I-Piece
Technology (similar to Photoshop plug-ins) enables North Plains, the
company’s clients, or third-party developers to create additional
support for unique or proprietary file types or metadata standards-
protection against files becoming orphaned.
Piracy Drives The Decisions
Piracy issues were foremost in considering a digital asset management
program and, for Warner Bros., the core business justification for
moving ahead with the MARS program was the elimination of the
distribution of physical assets. "There’s a risk in doing nothing,"
Antonellis says. "Physical distribution simply won’t be capable of
supporting new release models and accelerated timelines. At least, now
we have the ability to track who has access to certain assets and who
has access to the system. We have better control over our universe,
where we didn’t have that in the physical distribution world."
Antonellis says that, as the system’s use changes and evolves, Warner
has plans to incorporate higher levels of security and protection that
are appropriate to the sensitivity of the distributed assets. "As you
deal with marketing campaigns from their early inception, the
advertising and publicity groups manage the assets in terms of what is
being distributed and when," she adds. "Those rules haven’t really
changed. It’s just a different method of administering those rules."
After conducting vendor evaluations, WB settled on a North Plains
TeleScope enterprise system. Founded in 1994, the Toronto -based North
Plains introduced TeleScope, its flagship product, in 1995 and has
since installed it at over 400 client sites.
WB next built customized interfaces into the various business units’
portals or Web sites for delivery, enabling users to make requests on a
portal which, behind the scenes, is fulfilled by North Plains
TeleScope. This seamless integration was key to the adoption of MARS,
notes Antonellis, who stresses that great effort was made to keep it
simple. "The system itself is fairly complex under the covers," she
says. "The goal has been, to the extent we can, to make that view into
the system easier from the user side."
Phase One of the roll-out brought Warner Home and Consumer Products
online, followed by international theatrical and corporate marketing
& advertising, and Phase Three with international TV, Corporate
Image Archives, domestic cable distribution, WB Television and domestic
Full-Motion Video Online
Currently, the system handles files up to 1 GB, with broadband
connections definitely recommended. "If it took too long to download,
there would be a high level of frustration," says Antonellis, who
reveals that WB is now implementing short-form full-motion video- such
as trailers or promos- as a supported asset. Even licensees with a
dial-up connection can use the site, however, since much of the
photography is in the 50 to 100 MB range.
The learning curve for MARS has been relatively gentle. In addition to
direct MARS users, Antonellis says, there are many worldwide users,
including press organizations that, with proper authorization, can
download images. "The key to access to the system via the web is fairly
straightforward," she says. "The average time to learn to use the
system is less than half a day. For the people who work on the creative
side and have more access to functionality, it’s a longer learning
curve, but they pick it up pretty fast. Use of the system is proof. We
measure that through the take-up rate and that’s continued to
increase." The numbers show clearly how use has exploded: today, the
system boasts 515,000 assets with 415,000 downloads, 6600 direct MARS
users and 23,500 portal users.
In the planning stages for the MARS project, the team drew up a
"straw-man" architecture for future applications. But Antonellis
stresses that any future developments will be based on the same
philosophy and strategy that drove the MARS project from the beginning.
"We’re looking at business requirements, either strategic ROI or
immediate financial ROI, and that’s what our approach will continue to
be," she says. "The one thing we do know is that we’re not going to try
to build out one system to be all things to everyone. We feel pretty
strongly that it’s fairly difficult to do and a risky proposition."
She has other words of advice for others delving into enterprise-wide
DAM solutions: "Think globally, implement surgically. You have to keep
your eye on scope and what the business units need. At the end of the
day, if it doesn’t meet their requirements, you’ve just spent a lot of
time and money to create a great archive."