Operations: Sell Content Better — Centralize

By: Jim Rosenberg

Not everyone can be the biggest or most diversified. But many newspaper companies create enough print and digital products and services to merit the sort of content centralization that mirrors consolidations in other parts of the industry, resulting in operating efficiencies and opportunities for re-use, cross-media sharing and sales.

By last fall, Canada’s Quebecor Inc. had selected a technology supplier from outside the newspaper systems industry for a project to manage and store content from and for many, perhaps eventually all, its media properties. At the same time, a Spanish media company and its publishing systems supplier were completing a similarly ambitious system to manage its diversified holdings’ digital assets.

Quebecor’s Montreal-based Quebecor Media Inc. (QMI) subsidiary worked with EMC Corp. to implement an archiving solution that it said “will link numerous content-generating divisions to ensure optimal sharing.” The initial beneficiaries are its newspapers and QMI Agency.

Richard Roy, information services and technology vice president for Sun Media Corp., one of Quebecor Media’s two large newspaper groups, describes QMI Agency as the project’s “instigator,” under its head since last fall, Hugues Simard, who earlier was Quebecor senior vice president, development and strategy.

QMI Agency was launched in 2008 as a sort of in-house national news wire to serve all parts of the company. Early the same year, a request for proposals was issued for suitable content-management technology. EMC, with offices near Boston and in Toronto, is supplying its Documentum software as a front end to manage the content, and its Centera, Celera and Symmetrix V-Max systems to store it.

‘Not just a newspaper company’
From the Sun Media perspective, says Roy, centralization had been debated for some time. It already had deployed Mediaspan editorial systems “in our major urban dailies” in 2007 and early 2008, and used Newsbank and Phrasea text and photo archiving systems. Then, he continues, “We began realizing it’s much broader. We’re not just a newspaper company.”

Still, QMI is Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, with Sun Media’s eight urban daily tabloids, seven free commuter dailies, nine local dailies in Ontario and western Canada, and 150 weeklies, buyers guides and specialty publications, and Osprey Media’s 20 small to mid-size dailies, 34 non-dailies, various shoppers, magazines and other publications, and its commercial printing and insert and flyer distribution.

But QMI also publishes other magazines and directories and operates broadcast and cable television, interactive multimedia, Internet access, and wireless businesses, while its parent company publishes books and operates retail music and video stores.

With all those “moving targets,” the last thing QMI needed was a replication of effort. “Things are changing rapidly ? it’s a constant deadline,” he says. “Efficiency was at the core of this.”

So, although the project aims for easy availability of content across all media, “I would probably bet that we would have delivered a certain flavor of this,” Roy says, regardless of particular systems or the needs of other parts of the company. “The migration path would have brought us there anyway.”

As far as newsroom staffs are concerned, Roy says the project is not trying to change the workflow so much as “just trying to facilitate their process,” especially now, in a multimedia age, he adds, with, for example, a Web-presence interface by which “they can upload their stories.”

Though “the principal solution was the same,” he continues, “we realized that our Sun Media solution was probably a much better solution at a corporate level,” to be augmented as a broader solution for all QMI operations.

‘99.99999% redundant’
Documentum asset management enables content categorization and search. Text mining software reads new content and indexes and tags it according to newspaper industry standards, says Roy. All journalists interact with Documentum to query the central archive.

As an enterprise content-management platform, Documentum consists of several products: a content server with management services for the repository, services to automatically transform content into formats suited to different channels, administrative asset management, workspace customization, and Web publishing.

Though originally developed for corporate and government use, Documentum does also offer content services for WoodWing Software’s Smart Connection Enterprise, enabling interaction with Documentum from within Adobe InDesign and InCopy. Component XML capabilities support document disassembly and reassembly, including transformation.

“One of the reasons we chose the products that we did was ease of integration” with systems already in place, Roy says. “Each investment has to fit in a particular plan and road map.” That means Mediaspan systems will be kept, as will QPS and SSC systems at some Quebec sites, but the legacy text and image archives will be retired.

Another reason for the choice was reliability. “We bought from EMC a full-fledged solution end to end,” Roy says. “We want to de-risk and manage the scope. The solution is “99.99999% redundant,” with “self-healing capabilities” in the event of capacity component failure.

For any given content, the company realizes that “the value will change over time. So we have different tiers of storage,” Roy says, supported by products that will automatically move a story or other asset from one tier to another over time according to factors that suggest its usefulness. A story that has receded from one tier to another as its news value diminished may return to a more quickly accessed tier, for example, if it is among results of someone’s recent search ? only to return to its former storage tier a few weeks later.

The virtual tiers physically reside in different types of storage devices in an arrangement comparable to a library’s: latest-released best-sellers show their covers on a shelf near the desk, while the bulk of the books most used over time sit side-by-side on shelves farther from the desk. Volumes rarely sought because of age or subject matter are exiled to basement stacks.

And just as in the library, EMC’s arrangement affords quick access to all content. But where the difference in access times at a library may range from seconds to minutes, the difference on the digital systems is measured in fractions of a second.

Storing data in RAIN

Mapping data to its physical storage location, virtualization creates logical storage from the pooled physical storage of networked storage devices. EMC’s Centera relies on so-called redundant array of independent nodes, or RAIN, to eliminate single points of failure, partitioning data among clusters of networked nodes rather than the hard drives of a RAID system.

Centera offers gigabit Ethernet connectivity and an optical option. Two feet wide and standing over six feet high, storage towers can mirror up to 61.6 terabytes and are scalable to petabytes. (One petabyte is 1,000 terabytes.) Their content-addressing operating environment obviates applications’ need to manage data’s physical location.

Through transparent file management and one interface to all storage tiers, Celerra automates file movement between tiers, removing inactive files from back-ups to save time and media consumption.

Late last year, following availability of its fully automated storage tiering, EMC introduced 8-gigabit/second connectivity in Symmetrix V-Max, promoting it for efficient consolidation with improved service at lower cost, and enhancements to improve capacity utilization.

Calling EMC a leader in virtualization and content management, Roy predicts being “able to efficiently maximize our resources” for Sun Media to better share anything it ever created.

Furthermore, he says, “We’re going to cloud computing,” allowing “customers [to] interface with us” through Web access. Employees, too, will have access from anywhere. Unless a staffer has a reason to be there unrelated to the technology, says Roy, “there is no requirement to go back to the newspaper, sit down at a desk and type.”

The idea is to create access beyond wide-area networks, with different ways to access information easily ? for mobile journalists or business people on Blackberrys ? while maintaining a robust system. Local sites require only a Web browser for access.

The central repository is in the Montreal data center of Quebecor Media’s Videotron Ltd. business (cable TV and telephony, multimedia development, Internet services, wireless phone service), with a back-up site in Toronto.

As the content-management project waded through standardization and centralization processes, it also looked at simplification through consolidation, and will move near the end of this year to a new data center in another Quebecor building in Montreal.

The newspapers and canoe.ca, Quebcor’s Web portal, will use an estimated 78 terabytes (TB) per year in capacity utilization on disc-based storage-area networks for tiers one and two, Roy says. QMI has so far bought 40 TB toward that first 78. With material from mobile journalism and community newspapers, Roy adds, “it may grow even more.”

QMI has yet to determine if it will archive on or off line. “What is the business model?” asks Roy, suggesting, for example, that it could open the system for content sales.

The best storage medium also is uncertain and tier three has not yet been decided. The question is, Roy says: “Do we keep it all near real time or all online? The business will have to make a decision.”

QMI may decide just to keep pointers and have the actual storage at TVA, Quebec Media’s big French-language television broadcaster. “We’re not there yet in the sequencing of what we need to do,” Roy says, also noting that “it is not a prerequisite to move everything” into the new storage scheme.

The new system was deployed Jan. 13 at Sun Media and QMI Agency, with “assets being brought on board” thereafter. Site implementation, says Roy, consists mainly of training, because it’s integrated at the back end, leaving Mediaspan as the bigger newsrooms’ front end for production. At smaller sites, he adds, “It’s all Web-based cloud computing,” with users trained to log on and search for what they need. “An hour or two of training and they’re gone, they’re on the road,” he says.

Now running through June 30, the project’s second phase will analyze what sister companies, including canoe.ca and TVA, will need and how they will want to interface. Thereafter, phase three will consider any requested enhancements or improvements. In the “latter part of the year” it also will look to such other areas as identifying who wants to share content.

By phasing the project, says Roy, it was “not a monster from the get-go.” Breaking it up allows QMI to keep it on time and on budget, he says, “and make sure proper integration is done.”

Montreal meets Madrid
While QMI’s project was under way, another Montreal-based company provided underlying technology for a similar project in Spain, where a prior partnership handled integration.

Native XML database and search engine developer Ixiasoft supplied its TextML server for Madrid-based Protecmedia’s Quay multi-media archive ? in 2004. Today, among Quay’s larger users is Unidad Editorial, also headquartered in Spain’s capital.

“There was a close collaboration with Ixiasoft in order to get a scalable DAM solution… without losing search capability,” says Protecmedia spokesman Fernando P?rez Ortega. To accomplish that, Quay used its multisplit module “to create various dependent databases,” managing any number of them as if they were one repository.

Protecmedia aimed to use the advanced search engine to enable users to quickly find information across different types of cross-referenced files, improving productivity. It designed Quay to automatically archive and manage documents ranging from text and images to audio and video files, and to facilitate repurposing and copyright management. An e-commerce module supports secure online content sales. A content “score board” tracks use.

Protecmedia supplies Quay (which functions with any browser) for integration with other systems or ready to run with its own Milenium publishing system.

As at QMI, Quay users can search the system the same day they are trained, according to Protecmedia.

Among dozens of Quay sites, not all use Milenium. Probably the largest, Unidad Editorial uses Quay “in all of its media and properties” and Milenium “in all its publications,” says P?rez. Owned by Italy’s RCS Media Group, Unidad Editorial three years ago acquired Pearson’s Recoletos Group. It now has numerous Iberian and South American publications, broadcast outlets, Web sites, mobile businesses, and a joint venture in printing. Spain’s second largest newspaper, El Mundo, is perhaps its best-known title.

Completed this winter, content centralization was undertaken to support commercialization of group editorial assets. Archived content had to be available “in a controlled, reliable and easy-to-use manner and in direct connection with the editorial system,” Unidad Editorial Information Processing Director Julio Miravalls said earlier this year.

Most days, thousands of photos, 1,200 pages and 900 stories were archived. Upon completion, 4.5 million stories, 4.5 million photos and 3.3 million pages had been stored in readily searchable form, according to P?rez.

“Right now, they have 11 TB of capacity,” he says, adding that the scalable system can acquire “unlimited capacity.”

As more group properties archive more types of digital assets, sharing and reuse possibilities grow. “For example,” says P?rez, “elmundo.es can use a video from one of the company’s broadcast properties because this video is in Quay.”

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