The Z Axis: Better metadata will truly bring movies and TV 'everywhere'

By Ben Weinberger

By now, everybody from David Carr to my Aunt Janice has weighed in on the Apple iPad and its implications for the multi-platform content space.

So I'll spare you the prognostications except to say this: The iPad is a slick new device on which users can watch premium video content like television and feature films. The iPad joins a rapidly expanding list of devices that play video, one that also includes smartphones, netbooks, Internet-enabled TVs, and portable gaming devices, as well as good old fashioned computers and set-top cable boxes.

Assuming piracy can be kept in check (and I believe it can), and that the technical issues will get sorted out (they will), then film and television studios are the clear winner in this multi-platform, multi-device universe. That's because each new video-enabled screen represents a potentially lucrative market for both new and archival studio product.

Real success in this arena will be determined by how much premium video studios are able to sell--and how relevant and interesting that content is to users. In other words, the real success factor in the digital content delivery space isn't new devices. It's metadata.   

How does better metadata help studios succeed? Let's take "Top Gun" as an example. 

Paramount Pictures, like the other studios, is looking to maximize the value of its library content, and "Top Gun" is certainly a premium asset. After all, who among us hasn't felt the need--the need for speed?

Currently I can see "Top Gun" on DVD, on cable, and On Demand. Let's call these linear methods of accessing content.

Rich metadata helps power nonlinear methods of content discovery and delivery. The right metadata framework (such as VideoSense) can create thousands, if not millions, of intelligent video tags that can open the door to new monetization models.

Say I'm an action movie fan, and I've been downloading and watching Paramount action hits like "Patriot Games" and "Narc" on my iPad for a rental fee. Paramount (or its distribution partners) can recommend "Top Gun" to me, and I might buy it. If I like that, the system can then recommend other Paramount action films starring Tom Cruise, like "Days of Thunder" and the "Mission: Impossible" films. 

"M:I III" might get me interested in J.J. Abrams, which would get me to the remake of "Star Trek." If I like that, and if I'm a completionist, I might need to buy all of the other "Star Trek" films, plus all the episodes of all the different "Trek" television series.

Even if a small percentage of those transactions happen with a small percentage of users, that's still a bunch of new revenue for a studio. And remember, we're only using one movie here--out of a library that includes hundreds of films.   

My company, Digitalsmiths, has fully indexed "Top Gun" and 80 other classic Paramount titles for Paramount Digital Entertainment and its B2B clip licensing portal, In the process we have generated thousands of searchable metadata tracks.   

Sticking with the "Top Gun" example, the other metadata tracks from that movie include all the other actors in the cast, the names of all the characters, the locations where it was filmed, all the dialogue in the film ("Ice--fire, or clear!"), products that may be featured in the frame, songs, story areas--the list goes on and on.

Content recommendations are one of an unlimited number of potential applications for metadata. B2B uses like clip licensing come to mind.  Metadata can also power content discovery across connected networks. And then there are consumer-facing tools, like clipping applications.  I can't wait for the app that lets me search through entire films for my favorite movie moments and make a custom birthday card for my dad featuring iconic scenes from his favorite movies.    

Just as electronics makers keep developing cool new devices on which to watch video, smart people at studios will keep developing new ways to leverage rich metadata and turn it into dollars. And euros. And yuan.

The quick way to describe metadata is that it adds a "Z axis," or a vast new uncharted dimension, to content delivery. What was previously linear will now be multi-dimensional--not to mention faster, easier, and more fun to access.

Ben Weinberger is CEO and co-founder of Digitalsmiths, which provides a studio-grade digital media analysis, operations and publishing solution with a time-based metadata framework that helps digital media companies distribute and publish premium video content across multiple platforms, open up revenue streams for film and TV assets, and build audience.