Cloud collaboration is a hit for MLB's rich media management

Jonathan Gourlay

Every time Cole Hamels strikes out a batter, David Ortiz hits a home run or Jose Reyes steals a base, a team of four people at MLB.com, the New York-based public-facing website for Major League Baseball, makes sure the highlight is ready to watch on its websites just minutes after it happens.

Because there's a separate production group for each game played by the 30 major-league teams during the 162-game regular season, there can be up to 15 four-person teams creating, archiving and distributing rich media and digital assets every night in the studio from April through September. That content is displayed on MLB.com and its team sites, and among partners like Yahoo Sports and WatchESPN.com, so an effective digital asset management system backed up by enterprise collaboration is critical.

And it's made even more important because it's not just baseball highlights.

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MLB.com also manages video and other rich media and digital assets for the Australian Baseball League, the College World Series, Women's NCAA Softball, Glenn Beck TV, the NCAA College Basketball Championships in March and, yes, cricket. Essentially, anything that streams on ESPN's Web presence.

It takes a lot of coordination to make sure the correct video highlight goes to the right place at the right time, and until recently, all of it was managed using simple file folders. In addition, every request, change and fulfillment was communicated via email, verbally and by handing spreadsheets back and forth. As a result, highlights often didn't show up for hours.

MLB.com's production groups sound very much like a team themselves; everyone has a role and position. There's the logger, who keeps track of every pitch; the cutter, who marks the beginning and ending point of every interesting play; the video publisher, who puts words (and metadata) to every highlight; and the editorial producer, who matches highlights to stories. Before MLB.com revamped its digital asset management (DAM) system, every time a change was made, started or finished, emails had to be sent to anyone who might be interested in that game, player or type of highlight.

"There was too much clutter," said Rob Boysko, who arrived at MLB.com in 2006.

At the time, he said, video files were being stored in folders. "We had a folder for each team, each game. It was all hand-managed, essentially," said Boysko, the manager for multimedia publishing at MLB Advanced Media, a subsidiary of MLB.com. "It took too long for research, getting stuff back on line and sorting it all."

Because of the unique demands of sports highlights and the specific customized Web content management system (CMS) being used at MLB.com, managers decided to develop their own DAM and launched it in 2008. However, as the CMS and new DAM system added users, and MLB.com added partners, managers saw a daily avalanche of email. Team members passed messages to each other; partners emailed producers asking for specific highlights; and team site managers and other staff emailed each other about daily changes to player statistics, other video clips, schedules, news, promotions and other updates. 

"There were way too many emails to keep track of on a nightly basis," Boysko said.

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MLB.com needed a simpler way to communicate inside and outside the firewall and keep producing the highlights fans and partners expected. Emails were jamming inboxes, eating up valuable bandwidth and getting lost or ignored. He said that entire email chains existed for separate highlights.

"I wanted a one-stop shop," Boysko said. So he tried the Workgroup Edition of Central Desktop, a cloud collaboration vendor in Pasadena, Calif. Central Desktop enabled Boysko's team to share links to frequently used sites and tools, consolidating their communications in one easy-to-find workspace. Automatic alerts, which would keep everyone who needed to know about a certain project updated, convinced Boysko of its value. He showed the system to his bosses and it was quickly rolled out to the rest of the multimedia group.

Boysko described the Central Desktop product -- now called Social Bridge -- as an extension of the DAM and CMS user interface. Cloud-based collaboration gives MLB.com an easy way to connect with its partners and offers a scalable way of tackling collaboration as the group adds partners or expands its own offerings.

"Users are able to look for highlights and find them without diving into the DAM system," Boysko said.

Central Desktop acts as an automated communication tool on top of the DAM database. When a particular game's production team begins putting together a highlight, a message is automatically sent to a content editorial producer. If it's deemed particularly noteworthy by a producer, it's tagged and an automated message is sent to a sponsor -- say, Klondike Ice Cream for the "Klondike Moments of Glory" campaign or another whole set of people associated with the partner and the MLB.com home page.

When a new piece of content has been edited, an email is sent automatically and the communication is stored as a record in Central Desktop. Anytime a user checks a particular game, he or she is now able to see all the communications and assets associated with that game. Outside of MLB.com's firewall, partners can enter the system and find a game or highlight, and by clicking a button they can send an automated request to use the highlight to the correct person in production.

"We're replacing the email thread with disposable emails and they're more transparent," Boysko said. "It's been streamlined to the nth degree and it eliminates human error."

Central Desktop also acts as a portal to MLB's CMS, automating notifications to the appropriate people when other types of content, such as game stories or other news, gets posted on its site or on individual team sites. "It simplifies it so much, and you can access it from mobile devices," Boysko said.

The centralized processes now enabled by MLB.com's home-grown DAM system, aided by its cloud-based enterprise collaboration system, help simplify its production staff's ability to create and manage content for the 2.61 billion annual visitors of MLB's sites. It enables the highlight production team to get the game-winning catch at the wall posted up on the winning team's site in less than four minutes.

"Were finally catching up to cutting edge," Boysko said.

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