There’s a reason digital asset management (DAM) and media asset management (MAM) seem to be used interchangeably. Both help organizations centrally organize and manage assets—images, graphics, documents, video, audio—so that teams can create content efficiently and securely. Both simplify managing those assets through the content life cycle, from raw source files through editing, to distribution, to archive. And, as a central repository, they enable teams to collaborate by giving team members direct access to shared assets.
A quick answer to the difference is that MAM is considered a subset of the broader DAM, with MAMs providing more video capabilities. But since most DAMs can manage videos, and MAMs vary widely in what kind of video-oriented features they offer, it’s worth diving deeper to understand these different asset management solutions.
What to Expect From Any Asset Manager
Before we focus on the differences, let’s outline the basic structure and the capabilities of any asset manager. The best place to start is with the understanding that any given asset a team might want to work with—a video clip, a document, an image—is usually presented by the asset manager as a single item to the user, but is actually composed of three elements: the master source file, a thumbnail or proxy that’s displayed, and metadata about the object itself. Note that in the context of asset management, metadata is more than simple file attributes (i.e. owner, date created, last modified date, size). It’s a broader set of attributes, including details about the actual content of the file. We’ll spell out more on that later. As far as capabilities, any DAM or MAM worth being called an asset manager should offer:
- Collaboration: Members of content creation teams all should have direct access to assets in the asset management system from their own workstations.
- Access control: Access to specific assets or groups of assets should be allowed or restricted based on the user’s rights and permission settings. This is particularly important if teams work in different departments or for different external clients.
- Browse: Assets should be easily identifiable by more than their file name, such as thumbnails or proxies for videos, and browsable in the asset manager’s graphical interface.
- Metadata search: Assets should be searchable by attributes assigned to them, known as metadata. Metadata assignment capabilities should be flexible and extensible over time.
- Preview: For larger or archived assets, a preview or quick review capability should be provided, such as playing video proxies or mouse-over zoom for thumbnails.
- Versions: Based on permissions, team members should be able to add new versions of existing assets or add new assets so that material can be easily repurposed for future projects.
Why Metadata Matters So Much
Metadata is a critical element that distinguishes asset managers from file browsers. Without metadata, file names end up doing the heavy lifting with long names like
20190118-gbudman-broll-01-lv-0001.mp4, which strings together a shoot date, subject, camera number, clip number, and more. Structured file naming is not a bad practice, but it doesn’t scale easily to larger teams of contributors and creators. And metadata is not used only to search for assets, it can be fed into other workflow applications integrated with the asset manager for use there.
Metadata is particularly important for images and video because, unlike text-based documents, they can’t be searched for keywords. Metadata can describe in detail what’s in the image or video. For example, metadata for an image could be: male, beard, portrait, blue shirt, dark hair, fair skin, middle-aged, outdoors. And since videos are streams of images, their metadata goes one step further to describe elements at precise moments or ranges of time in the video, known as timecodes. For example, video of a football game could include metadata tags such as
00:15:37 interception, and
Workflow Integration and Archive Support
More robust DAMs and MAMs go beyond the basic capabilities and offer a range of advanced features that simplify or otherwise support the creation process, also known as the workflow. These can include features for editorial review, automated metadata extraction (e.g. transcription or facial recognition), multilingual support, automated transcode, and much, much more. This is where different asset management solutions diverge the most and show their customization for a particular type of workflow or industry.
Regardless of whether you need all the bells and whistles in your asset manager, as your content library grows it will need storage management features, starting with archive. Archiving completed projects and assets that are infrequently used can conserve disk space on your server by moving them off to less expensive storage, such as cloud storage or digital tape. In particular, images and video are huge storage hogs, and the higher the resolution, the more storage capacity they consume. Regular archiving can keep costs down and keep you from having to upgrade your expensive storage server every year.
Asset managers with built-in archiving make moving content into and out of an archive seamless and straightforward. For most asset managers, assets can be archived directly from the graphical interface. After archive, the thumbnails or proxies of the archived assets continue to appear as before, with a visual indication that they’re archived on secondary storage. Users can retrieve the asset as before, albeit with some time delay that depends on the archive storage and network connection chosen.
A good asset manager will offer multiple choices for archive storage, from cloud storage to LTO tape to inexpensive disk, and from different vendors. An excellent one will let you automatically make multiple copies to different archive storage for added data protection.
What Is a MAM?
With all these common characteristics, what makes a media asset manager different than other asset managers is that it’s created for video production. While DAMs can generally manage video assets, and MAMs can manage images and documents, MAMs are designed from the ground up for creating and managing video content in a video production workflow. That means metadata creation and management, application integrations, and workflow orchestration are all video-oriented.
Metadata for video starts when it’s shot, with camera data, shoot notes or basic logging captured on set. More detailed metadata cataloging happens when the content is ingested from the camera into the MAM for post-production. Nearly all MAMs offer some type of manual logging to create timecode-based metadata. MAMs built for live broadcast events like sports provide shortcut buttons for key events, such as a face off or slap shot in a hockey game.
More advanced systems offer additional tools for automated metadata extraction. For example, some will use facial recognition to automatically identify actors or public figures.
There is also metadata related to how, where, and how many times the asset has been used and what kinds of edits have been made from the original. There’s no end to what you can describe and categorize with metadata. Defining it for a content library of any reasonable size can be a major undertaking.
MAMs Integrate Video Production Applications
Unlike the more general-purpose DAMs, MAMs will integrate tools built specifically for video production. These widely ranging integrated applications include ingest tools, video editing suites, visual effects, graphics tools, transcode, quality assurance, file transport, specific distribution systems, and much more.
Modern MAM solutions integrate cloud storage throughout the workflow, and not just for archive, but also for creating content through proxy editing. In proxy editing, video editors work using a lower-resolution of the video stored locally, then those edits are applied later to the full-resolution version stored in the cloud when the final cut is rendered.
MAMs May Be Tailored for Specific Industry Niches and Workflows
To sum up, the longer explanation for DAM vs MAM is that MAMs focus on video production, with better MAMs offering all the integrations needed for complex video workflows. And because video workflows are as varied as they are complex, MAMs often fall into specific niches within the industry: news, sports, post-production, film production, etc. The size of the organization or team matters, too. To stay within their budget, a small post house may select a MAM with fewer of the advanced features that may be basic requirements for a larger multinational post-production facility.
That’s why there are so many MAMs on the market, and why choosing one can be a daunting task with a long evaluation process. And it’s why migrating from one asset manager to another is more common than you’d think. Pro tip: working with a trusted system integrator that serves your industry niche can save you a lot of heartache and money in the long run.
Finally, keep in mind that for legacy reasons, sometimes what’s marketed as a DAM will have all the video capabilities you’d expect from a MAM. So don’t let the name throw you off. Instead, look for an asset manager that fits your workflow with the features and integrated tools you need today, while also providing the flexibility you need as your business changes in the future.