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Ross Video Team Aug 16, 2021

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Living Live Podcast: What’s the Point of Metadata?


Chris Lennon admits that metadata isn’t the sexiest topic – but it’s one that can make a tremendous difference.

Metadata is the data behind the data. It doesn’t always get its due, but it’s equally important – if not more. Metadata is at the top of the list for Chris Lennon, Director of Standard Strategy at Ross Video.

It’s so important, he wrote a book on it.

“Metadata is not the sexiest topic,” Lennon said. “I’m here to tell you that it can be.”

On this episode of Living Live! With Ross Video, host Tyler Kern talked to Lennon about his new book, “The Media Workflow Puzzle: How It All Fits Together,” co-written with Clyde Smith. The duo also dug into metadata and its importance in production. Everything flows out of production, and metadata is crucial to that process.

When you think of production workflow, metadata’s role is making sure things stay in order. Because it’s at the top of the chain in production, it must be correct, because everyone down the line is reliant on this information is correct.

“The whole metadata area has become critical to all media workflows all the way from top to bottom,” Lennon said. “At Ross Video, we’re focused on the top end of the chain where everything is created. It goes to the old axiom of, ‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ but nowhere is that truer than in metadata for media.”

For the latest insights on video production and knowledge from experts in the corporate communications industry, make sure to subscribe to the Living Live! podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

AUTHOR: Tyler Kern


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Podcast Transcript

 

Tyler Kern:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to Living Live with Ross Video. I'm your host, Tyler Kern. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the show today. We're diving in and talking about metadata and talking mainly about why it's so important to the overall production process. And we're going to be talking to the man who literally wrote the book on metadata. It's Chris Lennon, the director of standard strategy at Ross video. Chris, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me.

Chris Lennon:

Hey Tyler, it's good to be here and glad to be able to talk about one of my favorite subjects here.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely. Well, we're thrilled to have you here on the show with us today, Chris, but you know, we're talking about metadata obviously, and we're going to talk about the book that you wrote on metadata here in just a moment. But before we get to the book, Chris, and discuss this in more depth, can you just bullet point for us some of the reasons why metadata is so important to the production process?

Chris Lennon:

Metadata is important, period, as far as I'm concerned. And I think as far as everybody's concerned, but it's particularly critical from a Ross Video perspective. When you're talking about production, and even live production throws another wrinkle into that, but let's just talk about production. First of all, you have production is really where everything starts, right? And so if you don't put things in correctly to begin with, you have the old garbage in garbage out axiom. If you don't do it right the first time it makes it tougher to fix it later on. So with us being focused on the realm of production, it's absolutely critical. We get the metadata in there that's needed and get it correct because literally everything else in the media work chain follows on from where we start here.

Chris Lennon:

So again, if we don't get it right, it's a problem. And then it's even worse if we want to say it's even more complicated, I guess, since we're focused not just on production, but on live production. To go back to another old axiom, you can fix it in post. Well, you can't do that when it's live. So we don't even have posts that we can lean on and say, we got it wrong. You can fix the audio, fix the video. You can't fix the metadata. No. There's no real opportunities to do that. So it's absolutely critical that we get this right at the very top of the chain here. And it's where a lot of the critical metadata comes from, is production. You get all this information from the cameras and the various systems that are involved in production. You've got all the information there, so there's no excuse not to put it in and get it right to begin with.

Tyler Kern:

That's a great point. And I love that phrase garbage in, garbage out. It reminds me of what my mom used to say when I would watch television as a kid. That's a joke of course. But it's something that in this particular case, what are the ramifications of not having the correct metadata at the beginning of this process? What are the results of that?

Chris Lennon:

You know, there are a lot of problems that you create downstream, but just to really simplify it, I think everybody's all about maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs, and you do a lot of that by way of automation. And everybody loves automation when it works. But often when it doesn't work, it's because it's not being given the right data to do what it needs to do and that's metadata. So if we don't have the correct metadata in there in the first place, you can't expect the various solutions you have downstream, that are intended to automate other processes, to operate correctly. And so that's probably the simplest way I can put it, Tyler, is that you're going to make things much less efficient and not allow the processes that could be automated to actually be fully automated.

Chris Lennon:

So it's going to cost you time, It's going to cost you money, it's going to cost you frustration. And you're just not going to end up with nearly as good a production as you might have otherwise, if you had done a little bit of work upfront. I hate to go back to these old sayings, but you this one just popped into my head. It's like with a carpenter. You measure twice, cut once. It's the same thing here. Let's do the work upfront to make sure we've got this all lined up and then everything just falls into place.

Tyler Kern:

That's an absolutely fantastic point. You're absolutely right about that. Now, as I mentioned off the top, you wrote the book on metadata. It is called the Media Workflow Puzzle, and I believe you have it there for us to show us. There it is on the screen. Tell us about the book and why you felt that this topic was important enough to write a book about it.

Chris Lennon:

Yeah, it's not like I had nothing to do and just said, oh, let's just write a book. This actually came out of working with an industry colleague by the name of Clyde Smith. We were looking at the state of the industry and what do people who are new to the industry or executives, what do they go to in order to learn how all this stuff, that we all take for granted, fits together? And Clyde and I looked at that and were like, nobody's actually written any of this down. It's just captured in the heads of all of us, how this all works. And we all just assume everybody else knows what we know. What we hadn't realized though, is none of us know it all.

Chris Lennon:

So we decided boy, it would be a good service back to the industry to put a book together and at a very high level, not super technical or anything, just very high level, outline how The Media Workflow Puzzle, if you will, fits together from top to bottom. And we chose the word puzzle very intentionally. I think earlier in the podcast here, I mentioned media workflow chain. And so I'm as guilty as anybody else. It's not really a chain. The chain implies, you've got one link, goes to another link, goes to another link and it's nice and linear. Wouldn't it be nice if it was that simple? It's not that simple. It's actually more like a three-dimensional puzzle. So that's why we use the word puzzle, is that everything interconnects in here and it iterates back on itself, it's not a linear thing at all.

Chris Lennon:

So we chose that title and we decided early on that the best way to do this would be to pull in the best of the best that we could find in terms of industry experts, round them up and say okay, you know production really well. Or you know post-production really well, or distribution or what have you, and have them all work together. And the sum would be greater than the parts. So there was a really interesting phenomenon that happened. We brought together all these people who had decades of experience, like we did, and we all thought we knew it all. And we're like, oh yeah, we're experts. We'll write all this. To a person, every one of the people who contributed to this book came back and said, oh, wow. By doing this, I realized how much I don't understand.

Chris Lennon:

Both have their own area, which is embarrassing enough. You say, you're a distribution expert. And when you start to actually write it down and you're like, well, why do we do that? I know we've always done that, but why do we do that? But then we were actually very inclusive of everybody and when we collected altogether, and then we edited it down, we said, we want all of you to read this and just make sure that we've captured the spirit of what you wrote. It was challenging to take 20 different voices and make them sound like one. But I think we did our best with that. But then when people read the whole book, the contributors read the whole book, they said, oh, wow. I understood even less about the other parts of this than I thought I did.

Chris Lennon:

It was very humbling for all of us, but a great exercise. And I think it validated why it was important to put this down in writing, because none of us know all this. And we found since it's been released, I've received a lot of of feedback from a lot of industry veterans saying oh man, this is great that you've actually got this all in one place. Now I actually understand a little bit better how this all fits together.

Tyler Kern:

Yeah. You're absolutely right. That's one of my favorite phrases. You don't know what you don't know, like you said. And I think it's important to realize that and to understand that sometimes in life. And you said that you thought you were an expert until you started doing research for this book, and you realize that there are just a lot of things that maybe you didn't know as much about as you thought you did. So what sorts of things did you learn about metadata that might surprise other people as well?

Chris Lennon:

Woo boy. That's a tough one. There wasn't one thing. There were so many things that I learned and I think it was more understanding why different things happen in a particular sequence and why they happen the way they do. And then you understand why getting that metadata correct in the first place is absolutely critical. In the past, you'd say, well I just know I need this set of metadata, but you didn't necessarily know exactly what it was driving at. So it's hard for me, Tyler, to point at one specific example of that, because there were a lot of aha moments in the process of doing this, where I'm like oh, now this makes sense. Now I understand why this is so critical. Maybe if I was to distill it down a little bit, the one thing that stood out to me is people talk a lot now about the long tail of distribution where even live productions are living on in being reversioned for later use and different distribution mechanisms.

Chris Lennon:

And that the content seems to have a much longer life than any of us ever imagined it would, with the new, over the top platforms and people being able to get to, or expecting to be able to get to virtually any piece of content on any device at any time they want to get at it. Well that doesn't all happen by accident. And so I guess that's the biggest thing that occurred to me, is that this is now a much bigger problem or opportunity, depending on how you want to put it. Let's say it's an opportunity. It's a much bigger opportunity for us to really realize the full value of the content that we're creating and that none of this happens without having the metadata captured correctly in the first place and passed all the way down. So yeah, I guess the new world we're in now, with a non-linear and on-demand distribution of content and the fact that it lives forever, now it's a much bigger opportunity.

Tyler Kern:

That's fantastic to hear. And I think you're absolutely right. So people should definitely go pick up the book, The Media Workflow Puzzle. It is a fantastic book that really dives into metadata. You mentioned earlier that idea of automation and the garbage in garbage out idea, and as we continue to move forward in media, how important do you think that this will be and how can people educate themselves in this area of automation?

Chris Lennon:

Well, I'll answer the last question first, Tyler. They can educate themselves by reading the book. I'm terrible that way. But I do think the book does not provide all the answers. It's less than 300 pages, so it's a very high level kind of thing, but maybe it opens eyes more to the fact that we all get guilty of going into things, not only in our jobs, but in our daily lives, with blinders on, that we're like okay, I'm really good at this. I'm going to focus at this. And we often don't look in the periphery of what's going on on either side of us. And so I hope that it actually opens up people's eyes more to that, that they need to be aware of how other things interact within the whole media ecosystem and how important it is that it all interact.

Chris Lennon:

And if I were to back up to the first part of your question, which going forward, is this whole thing going to become more important, less important? I would have to think that this is all going to become even more important because every year we're leaning more and more on automated processes, on artificial intelligence, machine learning. And you can't just say that well okay, we're going to have artificial intelligence machine learning. The computers are going to do all this for us. That's really not the way that works. They have to be fed at least some initial intelligence and guidelines from us in order to start doing their work. And I've contended that we're at the very beginning of using things like AI and ML in the media business.

Chris Lennon:

It's at a very immature stage right now. And in fact, I would argue that most things that we're doing, that we call AI and ML, really aren't. They're just cool algorithms and nice code that somebody's written, they're not really learning. But I think what we're doing right now is laying the foundation for a lot of that. So I don't want to be a total wet blanket on AI and ML. I think it's great. And I think it's where we're heading with a lot of processes, but again, these things just don't figure everything out on their own. And we as humans, can't just step back and say, it's all going to work.

Chris Lennon:

So again, the key to all of that, and really the reason you're using a lot of things that are labeled today as AI and ML, is to collect metadata. That's what they're doing. So yeah, it's going to be, not just because I'm a metadata geek here, I just think objectively this is going to become all that much more critical and ultimately is going to make our lives much easier when we can automate this to the nth degree. But yeah, I'd characterize it as we're in early stages right now.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely fantastic stuff here, Chris. Chris, I want to turn it over to you before we sign off here today to give us any final thoughts, any conclusions, anything you want to leave the audience with here today, as we wrap up our conversation.

Chris Lennon:

Final thoughts. Yeah, maybe a couple. I think it all centers around convergence, that we're really seeing a lot of convergence in the media business. When I look at getting exposure to both things, coming from the Hollywood community for digital cinema and then the television community, both traditional and new media, you're seeing all this converge very rapidly, both in terms of equipment being used, solutions being used, and processes. It's all become digital. The lines between consumer, prosumer, and professional solutions are blurring every day, and I think that's all going to continue. And really, the lines between cinema, television, new media, and even the lines between live production and more episodic or feature film production, they're blurring as well. All these areas used to be very independent silos. And to me, those silos are breaking down all the time and it's all converging and coming together, which depending on how you look at it, that could be terrifying to people who are used to the way it used to be.

Chris Lennon:

But I think it's actually exciting and it opens up whole new opportunities for those of us who are maybe more traditionally television people, to learn from what's been done in these other areas, what's been done in Hollywood over the years that maybe we haven't leveraged, what's been done in the pro AV realm that we haven't leveraged. We can all learn from each other. And I think there's huge opportunity there to do that. And so that's where I'd leave off. I think we're in an exciting time here, and I think convergence is going to make this all much more interesting, and metadata is the heart of all this.

Tyler Kern:

Well, Chris, thank you again so much for joining us here today. And if you could give the book one more plug here before we, we sign off for the day.

Chris Lennon:

All right. So yeah, it's The Media Workflow Puzzle, it kind of looks like this. There's ebook, there's paperback, there's hardcover, and like you said, Tyler, you can buy it wherever you want. The best way to find it is just Google the title. It's the SEO stuff is set up pretty well. So it'll actually come up pretty high on the search list. And yeah, please grab a copy of it, read it, and I'd love to hear feedback from you. I enjoy opening my inbox in the morning and, and getting any feedback that we can get on it. I've already had people say, when are you writing a second edition of this? I don't know, no time soon. It was a big undertaking, but who knows? In a few years, this will become dated and maybe we will.

Tyler Kern:

Fantastic stuff. The media workflow puzzle, go check it out, go make sure that you find it if you're interested in learning a little bit more. Chris Lennon, director of standard strategy for Ross Video. Chris, thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast again, and sharing your expertise in the realm of metadata.

Chris Lennon:

Thanks, Tyler. Appreciate it.

Tyler Kern:

Absolutely. And everyone, thank you for tuning into another episode of Living Live with Ross Video. We appreciate it very much. Of course, we have plenty of episodes of the podcast for you to go back and listen to. So if you want to dive into more topics in the production world, make sure to go subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or find the podcast on Ross Video's website as well. We have a lot of episodes covering a wide range of topics in the world of production that you want to go back and check out. And stay tuned for upcoming episodes. We'll be back with more episodes of the shows shortly, but until then, for Chris Lennon, our guest today, I've been your host, Tyler Kern. Thank you so much for joining us.

 

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