Willem-Alexander Hameeuw: One platform gives more benefits to us and to our clients and makes production easier

Willem-Alexander Hameeuw

TKT International Awards 2020 names Videohouse’s Media Asset Management platform Belgium’s Project of the Year. Interview with Project Manager at Videohouse (Belgium) Willem-Alexander Hameeuw.

— How was it recognized that you need multi-tenant MAM? What kind of operation moved you to that decision?
— We had multiple clients using their own dedicated MAM-solution. Every client had his own system, and for most of them it was the same kind of system, but it was separated, there was no link between the platforms. Having one MAM solution is easier, smarter and a better solution for the current and future clients. It’s also a matter of cost because of investments, yearly SLA’s (Service and License Agreement), and daily operations. And if you have one system housing all your tenants, it’s much easier to upgrade. One platform gives more benefits to us and to our clients and makes production easier.

— How did you first come in contact with VSN?
I did not know VSN before this project. We have some products in a playout center for OTT and streaming solutions that came from VSN. We did set up an RFP and sent it to local and European distributors, and some were sent to three or four MAM companies in Europe. One of them was VSN, because we knew them, because we already had products and because some of my colleagues knew them from IBC and NAB in Vegas, and they said: “We should look into that company and their solutions, I think they might match with us.”

— What kind of solution were you looking for? You already partially replied that you decided to have multi-tenant MAM.
— The main reason was to have multi-tenant MAM. The second reason was to replace all the gear we use for traffic and quality management. We were using a lot of tools for those jobs and wanted to make the workflow easier and faster. So one platform for MAM and traffic management. That was the goal, having it all in just one platform, with one web GUI that is available from anywhere in the world.

— Why did you finally choose the VSN solution and what did the selection process look like?
— We started from thirteen or fourteen companies, and in the end, we had three. And with VSN, it was a close match. In the end, we did not choose the product because creating a MAM system with all kinds of bells and funny things is not rocket science. What was important for us is the company that is creating a solution and is doing the engineering. It is as important as the product itself. And we really felt that developers, salespeople, support people, and the guys who write the architecture and do the project management at VSN, know their business. They do two things. One, they perfectly understood what we were looking for and our business, and two, we had the impression that they were able to act fast. During the year and a half that’s passed, our ideas about the company still stand: It’s a good product, they understand what we do, and they think with us. VSN project managers and engineers do not only think about how to solve something, they think ahead of us. They say “Okay, that’s what you want, but maybe in the future, it’s going to work like this.” And we say “We didn’t think about it, but we will probably do something like that.” And they say “Give us a couple of days’ let’s think about it.” And then they come back with the solution, and it’s always something that works, that is really why we chose VSN. If you buy a car, there are all kinds of cars, if you buy a Mercedes or a Volkswagen, they all drive, they all have doors, they all have comfort, they all have air conditioning. But why do you want to drive one car and not the other car? Because you feel at ease, you have comfort in it, you trust the car and the manufacturer. That’s why you come back to buy the same car. And VSN gave us comfort saying “We understand what you want, we are going to think with you.” And what happened in a year and a half is that two companies are working together for all kinds of projects, not for the initial scope. Clients are coming in and going out, and they are changing things all the time, every day. So, we are lucky to have the company that is next to us, and we are next to them in collaborating on new projects. I think we made a good choice to have a company that really knows what we are doing, they really know that stuff.

— It was a state of POC actually. Was it selected by three companies or how many companies have POC insight?
— Only three. We informed everybody what we are going to do in the first and second rounds, then the POC for only three. Three is an arbitrary number because if you have five, it would take too much time and five would make a decision a little bit more difficult. That’s why we did the POC with three. During the POC itself, there was only one company that was able to follow the list and check off all the questions and examples. it was really impressive. The other ones did only 75-80 percent, which is also impressive, but VSN was well prepared and checked everything on the list.

— What exactly has VSN installed in Videohouse? Was it successful, in time, etc.?
— We started the installation in May last year, VSN did assign a project manager which is also an engineer handling the project and is doing the installation. Of course, we were in charge of everything that had to do with hardware, networking, storage, and all kinds of tape archiving. But really, it was one-to-one close collaboration with the project manager. We did the initial installation. They came over to us, we had a chat for three or four days explaining what our current clients are doing, and if we could reproduce it in VSN Explorer. At the very start, it was not our intention to do a “copy-paste” of the current workflows. We needed to rebuild everything because if you build a workflow for clients, and a client is with you for ten years, the workflow would probably change two or three times, but nobody knows why it changes. People forget we are in the broadcast business; you don’t write papers about everything you do, you just make it work, and nobody knows why it works nowadays. So, we restarted to rethink every workflow, and the VSN project manager, because he already did some other kinds of projects for even larger companies, was helping with these changes. So, the installation initially went very fine, and I think the first assets were ingested at the start of July, two months later, which was not surprising but was in our head. We needed to start the migration, and are still doing the migration. I think now we migrated about three or three and a half petabytes of seven petabytes we need to migrate. So, we are still on track, but it’s a long track, and we already started to add new tenants, and the migration is becoming a little bit slower. In the meantime, the months that have passed, we already invested new hardware to create a system with more throughput so that we could ingest and export more assets on a daily basis. We just started a project with our sister company in Holland – United, also a member of the EuroMedia Group, and they are now a part of our MAM system. We added some hardware over here, connected the system with the database in Vilvoorde, and now they are ingesting assets for their clients. So, the system is already growing as we expected, not only for the current clients but for all kinds of new clients.

— What benefits or advantages have the solution of VSN brought to Videohouse, and what, for example, your team does now with this workflow that they weren’t able to do or develop earlier without multi-tenant MAM?
— The major advantages with the platform we own nowadays, the software solution VSN Explorer from VSN, is that it is so flexible that you can really connect almost any third-party system and solution. It’s just a matter of exchanging metadata through XML or exchanging API calls. Colleagues of mine come up with new ideas and questions every week and with VSN Explorer we can always find a solution. We start thinking, we ask some questions to VSN, and we come up with a workflow that allows for another system to talk with the MAM system. Things we were not really thinking about at the time of the RFP or POC, but that now has become necessary. And we are able to get it running with VSN Explorer. So our workflows are working better, faster, and cheaper with every step. Goal achieved.

— You already mentioned that VSN can work with any third party. In particular, about the workflow, for example, what kind of third party integration has been done?
— A third-party integration that already is operational is the one with the content management systems. We are working with two or three rights and content management systems (depending on the client) that share metadata for playlist and OTT. That information is shared with VSN Explorer and assets are automatically published. When assets have restrictions, like HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’, the TX-date and time are passed to VSN Explorer to only validate the episode as close as possible to the global on air time. Only one person in our company needs to check the asset and all the other steps are triggered automatically. So, that’s a major advantage.

— As long as you have a solid amount of subtitling, or you have versioning, do you consider to use artificial intelligence to help with that?
— Artificial intelligence isn’t that intelligent at this time. Smart people and software are of course getting better each day in improving the data-mining and linking all kinds of buckets of information to make artificial intelligence more intelligent, but it’s not there yet. Journalists, directors, and editors play with content every day, trying to create the best quote, the best show, the best trailer, the best sports summary. Nowadays they do it by playing it back and forth and they spend a lot of time reviewing footage every day. But what if all that content gets enriched with metadata by comparing it with the mass information that is passing around the world every second? What if you can look up a soccer game in a MAM and say: ‘Sorry to see there is no summary available, but hey, dear system can you create one of 60 seconds with only the goals and the best odds, and while you are doing it, just add 2 close-ups of Lionel Messi and one of the satisfied trainer, and can you do it by the time I get back with a fresh coffee?’ That will be artificial intelligence. And it could be in our MAM.