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Streaming Media
The Path to Video Content Management
Posted Aug 11, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Pathfire, an Atlanta-based business-to-business provider of digital media content distribution and management services, has been conquering the TV broadcasting world, station by station, and now stands poised to assault the worlds of cable, broadband, and Internet.

Pathfire automates the way broadcasters and content providers distribute and manage media. Its primary product, the Digital Media Gateway (DMG), is a digital IP-multicast distribution and management platform that supports a suite of applications tailored to the unique needs of news, syndication, short form, and advertising content.

Currently, Pathfire servers are installed at more than half of the country's broadcast stations. The Pathfire network is continuing to grow, and the company expects it to expand to include more than 800 stations nationwide by the end of this year. Current clients include ABC, Charter Communications, CNN Newsource, DWJ Television, Getty Images News Services and Image Bank Films, Insight Media Advertising, National Geographic Television, NBC, Point.360, and Warner Bros.

The Digital Media Gateway is helping stations realize dramatic increases in efficiency by minimizing the need to schedule and monitor satellite feeds, reducing the need for tape, and streamlining workflows.

Content arrives automatically on Pathfire Servers at broadcast stations, automating the content delivery process, and enabling simultaneous access for multiple users to a wide variety of broadcast-quality content through the DMG desktop applications. The applications also significantly reduce assembly time by allowing users to preview, select, transfer, and dub content with drag-and-drop simplicity. The DMG boosts operational efficiencies in station newsrooms and virtually eliminates show prep for syndicated programs, while delivering frame-accurate time sheets and desktop control for program directors and traffic managers.

DMG does away with the "four-o'clock scramble," says John Wilson, Pathfire's general manager, broadcast, who explains that non DMG-equipped stations have to wait for the day's scheduled satellite download of raw news footage (usually around 4 p.m.) before they can start to prepare the nightly news broadcast. That leaves only a few hours for employees to scramble madly to assemble a news program. DMG puts an end to all that by making it possible for news gatherers (and other content providers) out in the field to send footage at all hours of the day. This is a godsend to the producers, writers, and editors at the station because it allows them to spread out the workload over the entire day. They can start working on the raw news footage as soon as they get it and they can get it throughout the day rather than all at once.

"Pathfire's goal is to provide stations with a toolset that interfaces with station workflow," says Wilson. "In this way the DMG helps broadcasters smoothly integrate the content they receive each day into their workflow."

The CNN Connection

CNN has become so reliant on Pathfire technology that this April it decided to make a strategic investment in Pathfire. At the same time, it also decided to augment its existing Pathfire content delivery and distribution system. Once fully deployed, Pathfire's Digital Media Gateway application will allow CNN Newsource to send content to a network of servers located at its more than 680 affiliates around the country.

"CNN Newsource feed content will be delivered continuously, digitally and on demand, eliminating the need to wait for scheduled feeds, as well as significantly reducing videotape expenses. Without having to leave their desks, producers and editors will get immediate access to the content they need to produce competitive newscasts," says Susan Grant, president, CNN Newsource Sales, Inc.

At CNN, the Pathfire DMG controls everything, notes Wilson. "Everything that comes in is injested and encoded, whether it's on tape or a live feed or whatever. It's all injested, encoded into MPEG, stored on RAIDs and made available from the server." From there, anyone in the organization can access it at any time. "Because content is digital and local, multiple people, using their desktop client, can access both video and metadata," says Wilson. "To the users, it seems as simple as if they are getting everything over the Internet, but it isn't choppy like the streaming footage you get over the Internet."

John Wilson notes that Pathfire does not do streaming video. "We use a file-based delivery system," he says. "Video content is sent in a file format the way you send email." This requires a lot of bandwidth and is usually accomplished over a dedicated satellite path. Eventually terrestrial fiber will come into its own, says Wilson, but for now—"Nothing beats satellite," he says.

New Modules, New Ease

Current Pathfire customers will likely be even happier since this summer's announcement of two new modules for the Digital Media Gateway platform that promise to make life even easier for broadcasters. The new Syndication Connect Module and News Connect Module make it possible for broadcast stations to drag and drop content directly to downstream editing systems or play-to-air equipment without the need to dub to tape.

With the addition of the News Connect Module, Syndication Connect Module, or both, broadcasters can now select a single clip or a media list and add it to the play-to-air server or the editing system with a digital-to-digital transfer directly from their DMG desktop client interface.

The new DMG modules allow true digital-to-digital file transfer capabilities, automating the process of reformatting and uploading content to a broadcast server and providing seamless network-based delivery. The News Connect Module and Syndication Connect Module integrate with Pathfire DMG servers, feature easy-to-use drag and drop operations from the DMG interface, and are scalable and adaptable to future standards. They support most leading broadcast servers and the News Connect Module also supports standard editing systems.

VOD Connections

While the broadcast world has been Pathfire's first line of market attack, Pathfire digital video distribution and management technology is also finding application in cable, broadband, and Internet delivery systems. One of Pathfire's most interesting projects was the Video-On-Demand (VOD) system it completed last year with partners Concurrent Computer Corporation and Orlando-based PowerTV, a leading supplier of cable-based, iTV-focused business management tools and iTV applications.

The project successfully integrated Concurrent's MediaHawk Broadband VOD System, Pathfire's VOD Content Distribution System, and PowerTV's Interactive Services Architecture (ISA) Asset Distribution Interface (ADI) Module. This integration resulted in a secure and reliable end-to-end asset management and distribution system that is open and compliant with emerging industry standards. According to Pathfire, this system reduces both technical and business risks, improves operational efficiency, and lowers the cost of providing VOD services for a broadband system operator.

Pathfire's complete end-to-end VOD Content Distribution System includes content ingestion from the content supplier (e.g., motion picture studio) or content aggregator as well as satellite-based secure content delivery to a catch server at the broadband system operator's content management facility. PowerTV's ISA ADI Module automates loading of content and content metadata (e.g., title, performers, rating, and synopsis) from the catch server to the VOD system. Concurrent's MediaHawk Broadband VOD System delivers the VOD content on-demand to home subscribers.

"Without an integrated and automated asset management and distribution system, VOD content is usually delivered on tape by courier with the content metadata delivered on hard copy documents to be manually loaded to the VOD system's content management system. The manual nature of this current content distribution and management process is not secure, is unreliable, introduces unacceptable risk, is manually intensive, and is a significant cost factor for a broadband system operator," explains Jack Bryant, president and CEO of Concurrent Computer Corporation. "The combination of Concurrent, Pathfire, and PowerTV has resulted in an integrated and automated asset distribution and management system that we believe will help our customers reduce technical and business risks, improve operational efficiency, and lower costs."

Pathfire CEO Michael J. Eckert seems excited about the VOD integration project and the doors it has opened to Pathfire. The company will soon have its DMG in most of America's TV stations and will need new markets to conquer. The VOD-over-broadband market may be the natural next step for the company.

"The integration demonstrates that Pathfire's VOD content distribution system will fulfill a critical need in the VOD market. Our system provides an economical and scalable solution for managing and delivering content," says Eckert. "Our partnership with Concurrent has helped us to gain greater insight into the needs of customers in order to meet the demands of the growing VOD marketplace."

-Mark Fritz

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