Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Corus Entertainment and the High Priesthood of Content Management

Content management spans many different types of solutions, applications and functions. But when content is the actual product, the deployed applications represent usually some of the most sophisticated content management solutions out there. Media companies care about their content – it’s what they do. And so it’s not a surprise that content management reaches unseen levels of importance and sophistication in such companies. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Corus Entertainment, a leading media and entertainment company in Canada.

Corus is known as the operator of some 24 television and 50 radio channels as well as being a publisher of children’s books and other content. Among their brands are HBO (Canada) or VIVA as well as Nelvana which is behind the production of children’s books and programs featuring Babar, Bakugan, and Franklin. Just like many other media companies today, Corus has to go through many changes to adjust to the digital content age and one of the steps towards that goal was building a new, high-tech facility in Toronto.

During the press conference at the opening, Corus’ CTO Scott Dyer spoke about the technology behind the new facility. Where most enterprises go through generations of deployments and updates of individual software and hardware components, Corus found itself with a unique opportunity to deploy the entire IT environment from scratch. And so Corus picked the best solutions available including a high capacity network from Cisco, servers from HP, broadcast management from Pilat Media, production workflow from Pharos, broadcast system from Miranda, and digital asset management (DAM) from Open Text. As Mr. Dyer told the reporters, the Open Text software is used for management of digital assets that has since grown into a comprehensive ECM solution managing also documents and other content types. The Open Text Media Management offering is a major part of this environment as it provides the repository that can ingest all the programming, stock and promotional content, manage the metadata and all the related content such as language tracks, subtitle files, still images, scripts, documents, etc.

What Corus does with all this technology is very impressive. The content for 24 TV channels is being ingested on an ongoing basis, resulting in 15-30,000 hours of programming per year. All of the 1,100 employees of Corus have the ingested content immediately available on their desktops via low-resolution proxy browsing and playback provided by Media Management. There are currently 2 petabytes of content – a volume that rivals the Library of Congress – stored on a 3-tiered storage system with robotic tape libraries used as tier 3. All content is ingested into the repository and stored in its original format no matter where it comes from and the conversion to the target format is done on the fly during delivery (e.g. HD to SD conversion).

All of this is done today with off-the-shelf hardware and software – in contrast to the expensive and proprietary media environments of the past. The entire infrastructure is 100% digital – in fact, you cannot find an analog player anywhere in the building. I should also not forget to mention the services provided by Siemens who put it all together – which they have done not so long ago at BBC in Glasgow.

Seeing our products in a sophisticated production environment is always exciting. And what I saw yesterday is a form of high priesthood of content management. With all the technology, Corus claims to have the most advanced broadcast facility in North America and they are probably right. In fact, it was one of the most interesting customer visits I’ve ever done. OK, the top spot belongs to a visit of a Formula 1 racing team facility in Silverstone (UK) but that’s been many years ago.

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