A Case of DAM Fine Efficiency: Sony Pictures Entertainment

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Article ImageCase Study
ClearStory Systems & Sony Pictures Entertainment

Company: Sony Pictures Entertainment
A subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, Sony Pictures Entertainment produces and distributes motion picture and television programming, acquires and distributes DVD and VHS home entertainment products, develops entertainment products and services for broadband distribution, markets entertainment products and licensed consumer merchandise, and operates studio facilities in Culver City, California. The company's origins date to 1989, when Sony acquired Columbia Pictures Entertainment. (It adopted the Sony Pictures Entertainment name in 1991.) Today, SPE distributes filmed entertainment in 67 countries worldwide.

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: SPE has multiple workgroups developing hundreds of projects at the Culver City studio lot and interacting regularly (and often simultaneously) with more than 50 postproduction, print, and finishing houses worldwide. Shuttling digital dailies of motion picture productions, syndicated television programs, stock footage, marketing materials, and other digital assets among the various workgroups and postproduction partners long has been a costly and time-consuming process. Jerry Ledbetter, VP of SPE's Digital Media Initiative, says it often would take "an average of five to six passes" and hundreds of dollars in courier and production fees to get each film, video, audio, and photo asset reviewed and approved by the appropriate decision makers.

VENDOR OF CHOICE: ClearStory Systems
Like SPE, ClearStory Systems was founded in 1989 (as INSCI Corporation). Initially a provider of document archiving and imaging solutions, the Westborough, Massachusetts-based company expanded its market reach to include DAM when it acquired WebWare Corporation in September 2003. (WebWare operated as an INSCI product group until November 2004, when INSCI rebranded itself as ClearStory.)

Today, ClearStory provides flexible, on-demand enterprise content management and DAM solutions to 250 customers worldwide. The company's product portfolio includes ActiveMedia, an enterprise-class platform for managing, sharing, distributing, and publishing rich media content; Radiant Enterprise Media Server, a J2EE platform for building custom rich media and document management solutions; and Radiant Business Document Server, a modular system for high-volume document capture, archiving, and presentment. www.clearstorysystems.com

The Problem in Depth
Ledbetter says SPE officials first realized the magnitude of their DAM challenge in the summer of 2003 when several workgroups, within weeks of each other, submitted proposals seeking authorization to purchase different software systems to address workflow problems they were facing. "Senior managers on the lot were presented with two or three requests for very expensive systems," he explains. "It was obvious we didn't need to buy all of these solutions, so we had to decide if we wanted to combine all of the requests into one solution or try something else. Ultimately, we decided we needed another strategy."

Thus was born the Digital Media Initiative, a formalized, concentrated effort to streamline the workflow inefficiencies and redundancies within and across SPE workgroups. "We have a workflow for the studio that is unique to the workgroups on the lot," Ledbetter says of SPE's complex production process. "It starts in motion pictures or TV production, then flows into marketing material production, the home entertainment products associated with those productions, and finally into online products and services. We didn't want to change our studio lot to match some arbitrary industry standard, nor did we want to change our business workflow to match the inherent workflow of some product."

Consequently, he continues, "We had to define for ourselves the metadata associated with all of the workgroups' content and how it flows. We needed to examine our processes in relationship to industry standards, of course, but we also needed to create our own standard so we could manage our digital assets effectively and still capture the economies of scale for the studio lot."

Instead of having each workgroup "go off and do its own thing," he says, SPE sent an enterprise-wide request for proposal to 11 DAM vendors, including Artesia Technologies, IBM, New Mexico Software, North Plains Systems, and WebWare, in August 2003. "We went through a couple of rounds of evaluation," he says, "but ultimately, we concluded that there were some things we were going to have to do on our own. There was no single product out there that could solve all of the unique problems of the workgroups on the lot. There were some questions only we could answer."

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