Metadata Everywhere: Metadata-driven Workflows
Birth of a Super Power: Your Content & The Signiant Platform
Signiant’s Metadata Everywhere series focuses on how our systems interact with and utilize the metadata associated with media assets. In this piece, we focus on metadata-driven workflows, breaking them down into their simplest form, then expressing their true potential across content creation and delivery networks to uncover new powers and capabilities.
Metadata-driven workflows simplify complexity for our customers and can be extremely powerful. To understand their power, it helps to break them down into their simplest form, throw in a relatable metaphor, then extrapolate that across the possibilities they create.
First, consider your content whether it be a full-length movie, a multi-episode VoD saga, a commercial advertisement, short-form videos, a live sporting event, etc. It could be in development or it could be complete in all of its various versions (i.e., languages, formats, lengths, etc.). Whatever and wherever it is on your journey from creation to delivery – think of your content as Spiderman. Your content needs to get from one step to the next on its journey to the viewer. Wherever and whatever it is, there will always be a next step.
Doing Things That a SaaS Can
Spiderman is known for spinning webs out of his hands that connect with skyscrapers to swing himself across a cityscape at high speed to get where he needs to go. When he gets as far as that one web will take him, he’ll spin another and keep going.
Instead of connecting to skyscrapers, your content spins webs to navigate across the Signiant Platform. Moving from one step to the next via these web signals is enabled by metadata. In our cloud there is intelligence. Each new web can be thought of as an event that is used to connect one intelligent step to the next. Not an event like a contest or a concert, but like when one computer informs another what just happened. Your content spins an event-driven, metadata-infused web into and out of our software-as-a-service to where actionable intelligence is waiting.
Web services and webhooks are technical mechanisms that can be used to make these event-based connections. These are perfect descriptive names to illustrate how this works. A webhook is used to indicate interest in a type of event and route them to a web service that processes them. It hooks to a next step via a web signal thereby connecting one step to the next – like Spiderman swinging from place to place. That metadata-infused web can also be spun down from the cloud, telling logic outside the Signiant Platform what has happened and informing what to do next. As events are parlayed in and out of the cloud from one system to another, your content moves onto the next step automatically and at great speed. Extrapolate that across the insanely large number of steps any single piece of content completes from start to delivery in its various forms, formats, and destinations. Then, multiply that by the number of media assets represented in petabytes of data moved by Signiant every single day. Events and webhooks by the gazillions. It gets very powerful.
Tell Me More
In the media and entertainment industries we serve, metadata often provides context to the essence (e.g. audio and video tracks) it is associated with. An asset is essence together with metadata. Metadata can be embedded within AV tracks, contained within a separate file, or both. Metadata in a separate file is sometimes called a sidecar. It goes where the main vehicle goes but in a separate container attached to it. A sidecar may be attached, detached or modified at any step on the journey. Metadata can also live in a separate database linked to an essence file via a unique ID.
Metadata can contain a plethora of information related to that asset, generally split into two main categories: technical and descriptive. Examples of technical metadata include audio encoding format, video encoding format, etc. Examples of descriptive metadata can be asset based, for example: “show title” or “episode title.” They can also be timecode based: “At this point in time, Actor A is speaking. Actor A is the image. Etc.” It really is limitless information about information. Consequently, information about an asset can also tell systems what to do with it. This is the basis of a metadata-driven workflow.
Tell Me How It Works!
To create your digital AV masterpiece, you implement a workflow to capture and/or create, edit, modify or assemble, and distribute your content. Metadata-driven workflows consist of instructions that use metadata associated with your assets to make decisions. Leveraging serverless computing and low-code/no-code capabilities, you can design your workflow to automatically react to events and use existing metadata or augment metadata associated with an asset. A workflow can react to existing metadata that is embedded in an essence file or in a separate sidecar file. New metadata added to an asset can record what has been done to the asset by the workflow, merge information from another source, and provide workflow instructions.
Metadata in an automated workflow can answer questions like: “Where should this file go next? What should be done to this file? Is this file in the right format for this particular workflow? Does this file have the necessary information for this workflow?” The possibilities are endless.
Edit Decision List and Composition Playlist
Two examples of instructions provided as metadata that can directly drive automated workflows are edit decision lists (EDLs) and composition playlists (CPLs). Instructions for processing media can be encoded in an EDL, CPL, and other ways that can inform workflows. Much simpler metadata like an asset ID can also inform workflows. Sticking with EDL’s and CPL’s for the moment, they share similarities but are used for different purposes. They both consist of pre-coded decisions of adding or removing or combining information from an asset.
EDL metadata is typically used early in the creative process. In an editing system, a creative decision is made: “Take this section of original media between these two timecode points and put it in that timeline sequence.” That gets captured in the EDL. It stays in the editor. When an editor has done their work it can: “Export this sequence based on these edit decisions,” or simply pass the EDL to a subsequent step. In the former example it produces a new piece of media that excludes any media not in the final product that result from those edit decisions. An EDL can be used with automated instructions like, “Archive the original material along with the EDL,” or “Transfer the flattened file to the localization team and notify them the file is ready to be localized,” among many other possibilities. These examples are overly granular for the purpose of illustration and may be broken down into many sub steps as previously noted.
CPL’s are typically used by workflows that receive media on the distribution end of the supply chain. CPL instructions encoded as metadata describe how to: “Create this composition out of this source media.” You could deliver an entire season of shows and use the CPL to: “Create the English language/subtitles/road signs version,” or “Create the French version.” Now add every version of every language you’ve prepared, multiply that by the requirements of different countries, networks, OTT providers, viewing audiences, prime time sensitivities, airline versions, formatting needs, etc. Metadata-driven workflows simplify the complexity.
As the complexity exponentially explodes, the tremendous benefits of metadata-driven workflows within the Signiant Platform come into play across the entire M&E supply chain. Signiant Jet, Media Shuttle, Flight Deck and Media Engine make it far easier to prepare and deliver your content in the correct format and version your fellow creatives and customers require across the globe. They eliminate errors and allow your creative people to not be bored doing work computers are far more suited to do at incredible speeds and predictable accuracy. Computers never get bored doing tedious work or waiting to be told what to do.
Serverless Computing & Low Code/No Code
Reaping these tremendous benefits requires some set up that can be done with serverless computing and low-code/no-code techniques. Both greatly reduce the amount of work required to connect systems. Serverless computing requires some software development skill but saves work by abstracting much of the generic computing infrastructure setup so a developer doesn’t have to think about this. Low-code/no-code solutions allow non-developers/programmers to do useful things based on metadata.
Serverless computing is a misnomer because servers are definitely involved, they’re just abstracted out of what a developer has to worry about. Having Signiant’s intelligent file transfer software already in the cloud and ready to emit and react to events abstracts complexity in a complimentary way. Deploying a server, an operating system, software, etc. is taken care of for you. All you need to do is tell it, “When this event happens, take this action.” You define the events you want it to react to, and what actions to take when the event occurs. It removes a ton of bootstrapping.
Low code/no code is even easier to configure and deploy. There is less code to write and maintain. A non-developer typically uses a drag and drop interface allowing users to connect actions to events, for example, “Process this file that just arrived via Jet using my ingest pipeline.” You don’t need a software engineer to make that happen. Low-code is more common than no-code, where the scripting required is typically much simpler than coding a serverless function.
Flying at Jet Speed
Now imagine you are delivering your content to a distribution partner. With Signiant Jet, a metadata-driven workflow automates the delivery process which could otherwise require a lot of bootstrapping. With SaaS, all of the complex IT setup tasks are done for you so you only have to worry about what delivers real business value. Another key value to Jet is the ability to easily create authorized connections for automated transfers across businesses with a simple handshake, eliminating many potential security problems with user IDs and passwords. Once these connections are in place, automated metadata-driven workflows can move content within the defined rules.
Whereas Jet is an automated, unattended file transfer service, Media Shuttle transfers involve a person on at least one end of the transfer, but the other end of the transfer can be automated. The CloudSpeX feature in Media Shuttle can be used to implement a metadata-driven workflow with just configuration and no coding. Media companies spend valuable time and resources dealing with inbound assets that fail to meet their published delivery specifications. It is a growing issue throughout the media and entertainment ecosystem. CloudSpex dramatically lowers the number of improperly formatted files that land at the destination amidst the growing complexity of multiplatform delivery. Metadata is extracted out of a file sent to the control plane in the Signiant Platform and checked against a pre-configured specification. If it meets that specification, it is passed along. If not, the sender receives easy-to-understand information on why the files didn’t match specifications. You deal with mistakes early on, as opposed to later in the process, saving time and money
Standards and Practices
Many companies deliver content that is compliant with Digital Production Partnership (DPP) standards and SMPTE standards like MXF and IMF specifications, among many others. Depending on the flavor, you can configure Media Shuttle to ensure your content complies with it. For example, “Upload assets that meet the DDP spec. If it doesn’t match, do not send.” If it doesn’t meet the spec, Media Shuttle will not make the transfer and an email alert will be sent to someone who can fix it. All based on metadata. Metadata forms are another example of how metadata can be added as media travels through your workflow. In Media Shuttle, they allow the system to prompt a user for additional information when they perform an upload. This prompt for information can be connected to an automatically generated request to upload a specific asset via an upload link sent to that user. The information the user provides through the form can inform what happens to the file or files being uploaded, allowing follow-on tasks to be automated.
Reacting to newly created, event-based metadata also allows otherwise independent tasks to be orchestrated or choreographed. A simple example is when a file is finished transferring, it can generate an event which another system uses to know it’s time to do the next thing. Let’s say Joe completes a Media Shuttle transfer. That Joe completed a Media Shuttle transfer becomes metadata about the asset. This alone can initiate an automated step like, “When Joe uploads a Media Shuttle file, generate automatic subtitles using an external speech-to-text service.” It can react to the fact that it has arrived in a particular location. The chain of custody is metadata added to the asset. Adding metadata to an asset doesn’t necessarily mean putting it in a file. It may be storing something in a database with a unique ID that then connects to that file. There’s the asset and perhaps multiple files. It’s something in the Media Shuttle database. It is queryable, retrievable and linked to that file.
Birth of a Super Power
In every case whether it is Jet, Media Shuttle, Flight Deck or our Media Engine service, metadata-driven workflows result in saved time and money and ultimately lead to higher quality content.
At Signiant, we work with metadata way more closely than most humans ever will. Yet we need to keep reminding ourselves that metadata is simply information about information. It’s data about data. Like the limitless nature of data, the possibilities of what you can do with metadata are also limitless. Harnessing that power in an AV workflow is why Signiant exists. It’s more than just fast file transfers. Metadata-driven workflows are one outcome of this power put to use. It is a super power we provide. You want that power working for you.