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Digital Signage Media - Building a DAM to Control the Flow of Files

Aug 1, 2008
How many media files go into the average digital signage system? Well, that is hard to say. It depends, of course on the size of the network and the quantity of messages it runs, but if you consider how the typical digital signage playlist is created, you will see that the number of media assets can easily run into the hundreds or even thousands. A file management system is essential to keeping track of each and every one.

Digital Asset Management (DAM)

A digital signage creator takes individual media assets and combines them to create a playlist. A recent Digital Signage Today guide likened playlists to notes on a musical staff, with each note being a media file, and the collection of notes on the staff constituting the playlist.

To understand the content management challenge, consider the many files that digital signage creators work with: MPEG and AVI, Flash or other animations, still images and graphics, fonts, HTML and messages in many forms, including straight text, crawls and scrolls. Managing single instances of each of these files is only the beginning. These files go into playlists that appear on different types of displays across a broad network. Each digital signage deployment may require different versions of the same file for portrait and landscape orientations, and for any number of screen sizes, from small 15-inch displays to large 60-inch screens.

Content management is an issue for businesses of all sizes and in all industries. Content creators, from technical writers to graphic designers to digital signage editors, can write volumes about the content management systems they have developed to handle the large quantities of files they produce.

As these creators will tell you, there are three key components in any successful content management system - a robust content management tool, metadata, and strict filename conventions.

Of course, the most straightforward and commonly used analogy for computer files is that of a library. If your files are a library, the content management system is the tool that creates the classification system. In digital signage applications, this system is called digital asset management (DAM) software. The DAM controls access to the media assets and helps define workflows for adding items to the "library". And, just as the Dewey Decimal System allows a librarian to tag a book so a library patron can easily locate it in a sea of thousands, the DAM software enables you to tag your files with descriptors, also called metadata.

Metadata is, to be brief, data about data. In the context of digital signage, it can be used to assign tags that indicate where and how a media file should be used, perhaps by describing its resolution, orientation, or even its content. Metadata can be as simple as a date, or as detailed as "Promo for upcoming buy-one-get-one sale". Just like the call number on a library book makes it easier for you to find it, metadata makes it easier to search for and find specific media files.

Of course, as any computer user will tell you, filenames are of vital importance to managing data. Without a consistent naming convention, files can easily be lost, whether they are Word documents or digital media. A naming convention should be in place before any digital signage network is launched. Use attributes like resolution, orientation, season or type of promotion consistently in your filenames so you can quickly judge whether the file you are selecting is the correct one.
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