A recent observation on the Faultline has seen a rise in the number of companies offering media asset management (MAM) systems, often going under the alias of digital asset management or production asset management systems. It may be coincidental that these similar offerings have appeared on our radar all at once, but regular readers will know there’s no such thing as coincidences – so is this instead another ramification of commoditizing OTT video technology forcing a number of vendors to trade “trendier” ventures for somewhat safer ground?
UK-based start-up Imagen (pronounced Ima-jen so as to avoid confusion with Imagine Communications) morphed into what CEO Charlie Horrell described as a real technology company around 4 years ago and at the recent NAB show went live in the lucrative sports scene. Admittedly, it’s difficult to get excited about MAM systems and we voiced as much to Horrell from the get-go during a conversation this week, prompting him to reel off a list of unorthodox customers Imagen is helping manage and monetize video assets, namely Nato and the Evangelical Church – not media companies we are accustomed to covering.
But it was the mention of Imagen’s newest customer Major League Baseball which really caught our attention, landing the account so soon after debuting in the sports sector. But to our surprise, MLB isn’t even Imagen’s largest customer, as that crown goes to the UK’s Premier League soccer outfit, one of the world’s richest franchises. As for the trend highlighted in our opening gambit, the increased demand for MAM systems could simply be attributed to an abundance of video content in the modern era leaving media firms with libraries growing exponentially – in turn requiring more powerful and intuitive systems for enabling partners to quickly acquire content assets from these portfolios.
Imagen’s eponymous cloud-based software-as-a-service product, typically hosted on Azure but not exclusive to the Microsoft infrastructure, essentially allows clients to load, store, tag and monetize content externally. The 50-person company prides itself in ease of use compared to competing services, offering features including one-click uploading, clip creation and licensing, along with insights into consumption habits with its built-in analytics dashboard. One of Imagen’s newest features for sports customers enables one-touch metadata entry and customizable keywords grids with the Imagen Media Logger, smoothing over the process of navigating and curating long-form video content.
We mentioned big boys like MX1 and Red Bee Media, along with smaller players offering MAM services like Ooyala and Arkena, both of which have experienced substantial difficulties in the past couple of years – stripping down their product portfolio to the point where MAM is more prominent now today than ever before. Serendipitously, at the very moment the competition was under the microscope during our conversation, a message pinged up on Horrell’s computer with a reminder to prepare for an upcoming meeting with MX1, the streaming technology arm of satellite fleet operator SES. Naturally, Horrell couldn’t reveal the essence of the meeting although we understand some form of partnership is on the cards, although it was mentioned that while MX1 is functionally strong as a competitor, Horrell was confident enough to say Imagen is superior in terms of usability. We’d love to be a fly on the wall during this meeting.
But Horrell later added that none of the vendors mentioned here are considered direct rivals, instead naming US digital asset management firm Wazee as one primary rival. “We’re currently undertaking some competitor analysis and to be honest we have been left scratching our heads on the sports side,” said Horrell, while claiming Imagen is “considerably cheaper and faster” than turnkey systems.
We jumped in with another observation, referencing the term Interoperable Master Format (IMF) which often crops up in conversations within asset management circles. Horrell quickly grabbed CTO Tim Jobling from the room next door, who explained Imagen is not currently supporting IMF, because the standard is primarily used for distribution between studios rather than repurposing of content where Imagen operates. Jobling also mentioned Imagen’s accelerated file delivery techniques, working with FTP and TCP protocols to reduce latency in delivering HD media content.
So what about voice? Automatic Speech Recognition technology is particularly useful in sports use cases for allowing broadcasters to search for comments made during an event by creating file locators, for example, from where speech-to-text can be generated from the commentary track. ASR isn’t a key area for Imagen right now but Horrell cited handling speech-to-text capabilities for Reuters within a library 1.2 million assets strong, using Microsoft speech-to-text software for the job.
Imagen secured a £6.5 million ($8.3 million) Series B funding round in January, led by Downing Ventures, along with Guinness Asset Management and existing investor Cambridge Innovation Capital.
So, while technologies like playout and ingest in the OTT video ecosystem are visibly commoditizing, systems for managing video assets appear to be becoming increasingly vital, not just for companies dipping their toes into video for the first time, but established broadcasters and media outfits too which need ever-smarter, faster and more efficient ways of allowing customers to access content. The MAM field might not sound sexy on the surface, yet the technology has a crucial part to play in forming the foundations for the next wave of innovation in video.