When your media library includes several hundred thousand Beta SP cassettes you have to race against time, tape degradation and the impending decommissioning of Betacam technology to digitise your assets and retain the value of your archive. This was the problem facing Hungary’s national broadcasting organisation two years ago.
The Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund (MTVA) is Hungary’s state-owned, national, public-service broadcasting organization. Formed in 2011, it includes the public service broadcasters; Magyar Televizio, Magyar Rádió and Duna Televízió as well as the Hungarian news agency Magyar Távirati Iroda.
The team at Future Trading Group were very familiar with the problem facing MTVA as they have supplied broadcast technology and integrated solutions to both Magyar Televizio and MTVA for many years. Tasked with designing a digital solution to the organisation’s mountain of analogue content, their research led them to Blue Lucy and BLAM.
Blue Lucy’s core product, BLAM, provides advanced, yet simplified, operations and asset management, together with comprehensive video processing. Deployed in the cloud, on-premise or as a hybrid solution, BLAM streamlines operations and provides unified control and monitoring across entire production or content supply chain businesses. At IBC 2017 Blue Lucy launched BLAM-in-a-can, a range of pre-packed entry level solutions focused on specific operational business use-cases, including tape archive digitisation. The off-the-shelf BLAM Archive Digitisation solution combines BLAM’s Flexicart Controller and Ingest plug-ins to enable the unattended bulk-ingest of cassette tapes under full automation – allowing more than 100 hours of content to be ingested without manual intervention.
In early 2018, Future Trading Group and Blue Lucy ran a pilot project at MTVA to demonstrate how a repurposed Sony Flexicart tape robot integrated with BLAM and a digital archive could provide the automated solution to bulk tape digitisation that they so desperately needed.
The pilot was a success and a few months later the Future Trading Group team returned to implement the final solution. While the project relies predominantly on an off-the-shelf SaaS package, the irregular nature of the archive material makes ongoing workflow adaption necessary to accommodate anomalies like time-code breaks and duplicated time code information. One example of additional development required was for the Blue Lucy team to write a piece of script that converted tape data from a spreadsheet into an ingest manifest so that imported scripts or tape logs could be used to create placeholder clips in the BLAM.
Now, when the Flexicart is initialised, it scans the up-to-forty cassette bins and matches the cassettes ‘seen’ in the bins to the ingest manifest. BLAM then systematically loads the cassettes into the three available VTRs and digitises the cassettes according the manifest. In most cases this is between logged SOM and EOM time-code values, although for cassettes for which there are no logs the cassettes are digitised in their entirety. As each clip is ingested a manual QC task is raised and, when content is validated, the material is moved to the main archive.
The only human intervention required in the entire tape digitisation process is for a junior staff member to load a new batch of tapes into the Flexicart system twice a day – and because BLAM supports cassette restocking, the operator doesn’t even need to stop the workflow. The cassettes which have been digitised are marked in green in the BLAM UI and in the Flexicart the LEDs adjacent to the bins are switched off. The MTVA team can monitor the process, from anywhere, using BLAM’s browser-based interface and are notified via automated emails whenever a job is completed or if there are any errors.
Media assets are delivered from production companies to ContentSelect via various accelerated transfer tools that have also been integrated and follow a largely standard ingest process which includes browse creation and automated quality control.
Assets are then registered with the BLAM via an API call from ContentSelect. Without moving the original file, BLAM runs a simple check to ensure that the registered asset data matches the physical file and creates a thumbnail from the source file to support quick validation in downstream operations.
When an editing task is picked up and actioned as part of a workflow in ContentSelect, the corresponding task is raised in BLAM via an API call. This means that the material that editors need to complete their assigned tasks is automatically shown in the BLAM panel in Premiere and can be loaded onto the timeline with a single click.