The Increasing Importance Of Metadata

When I went for my first job interview the only real test I was given was to write a title on the side of a 35mm film can to see if I could do so legibly. As someone who had just graduated with honours degrees in film&tv and educational broadcasting I was insulted.

Now, over thirty years on, I realise how important a lesson I learnt that day and how important metadata was, and still is, in the film and TV industry. Indeed, being able to write on the side of a film can doesn't cut it any more.

Only a decade ago, I went to a meeting with one of Europe's largest broadcasters to talk about digitisation of their library, only to find that their master broadcast tapes were all logged in a school exercise book, often in pencil, with little more than the title, series, episode and transmission date.

Of course, metadata has come a long way in the recent past and its importance is increasing immeasurably in the information age.

Once upon a time all the information you needed was available from a cinema billboard. Today you need to worry about everything from the container format and codec for the video file to the rights position of contributing artists. As metadata requirements have ballooned, the problem of data input has increased.

Let's face it, someone has to enter all that data in the first place - and keep it up to date and it is becoming a burgeoning problem.

So, what can be done ? 

Well the obvious first step is to decide how and where the metadata should be stored. 

An effective way of doing this is to set up a project container where key information and all subsequent information and assets can be stored. The problem with many such systems is that they are either informal and unstructured (think of a folder on Box or Dropbox) and lack specific functions required by the film and TV industry, or that they are too restricted. For example, many asset management systems are very poor at managing elements such as royalties and rights.

To address this we have developed a core system called Assetry that combines both asset and rights metadata and can also plug into existing systems such as scheduling and OTT systems. 

A key challenge was to make the system as automated as possible whilst dealing with both technical and descriptive metadata. Technical metadata, for example, is automatically stripped from master files and scene and voice recognition software can also be integrated to automate rushes processing.

But this does not negate the need for human involvement totally. 

Production information and also contractual information need inputting by humans (at least for the time being). This is why it is essential to build the metadata capturing process into the production process from start to end, or from when an idea is conceived to when the programming is sold and distributed.

The cloud is producing fantastic tools to make life easier and cheaper for film and TV producers, but, thankfully, the need for sentient humans is unlikely to go away any time soon. However, a centralised cloud based metadata platform does open up the ability to offshore or crowdsource logging and streamline the distribution of metadata and assets.