David Julian Gray is NPR’s senior product manager, content production. Before the coronavirus crisis hit, he was preparing to lead an NAB Show session about radio metadata including the value proposition for metadata through the content lifecycle
Radio World: Let’s start by updating our understanding of what the term means in 2020. How do you define radio metadata in this context?
David Julian Gray: A classic definition of metadata is “everything but the thing itself,” meaning all the descriptive and technical information about an object.
In terms of radio, and media production and distribution in general, “the thing itself” is a media file or a stream, often called the “essence.”
All the information that helps identify and describe the essence is its metadata. The station ID, the origination producer, program, season, episode, story, by-line(s), voices, subject tagging, production data such as component files and production staff. Technical metadata includes container format (e.g. MPEG-4), encoding format (e.g. AAC), sample rate, bit rate, etc.
RW: The description for the session that didn’t happen called metadata “both the glue and lubrication of digital workflows and distribution.” Expand on that.
Gray: That something can be both “glue and lubrication” may seem counter-intuitive, but that’s how metadata enables and enhances media workflows, and why it’s essential for digital workflows.
To take a step back: In ancient times “the thing itself” was a reel or cassette of tape, or sheets of copy; something material we could hold in hands. How do we get ahold of a digital essence? With metadata. The name of the file, its storage location, that’s “lubrication” — getting the system to flow.
But to go from an idea to a program stream to the listener requires a multitude of systems, and that’s where metadata as glue becomes important. Assigning Guaranteed Unique Identifiers (GUID) and other standardized identifier conventions that can be shared across systems “glues” media objects across systems and contributors, ensures the correct media is used through its lifecycle, production, distribution, reuse. Standardized semantic tagging helps with discoverability, aids end users to find the content they want.
RW: What role does metadata play at NPR?
Gray: At the most basic level, again, metadata answers the question: “Where’s my stuff?”
As a modern media organization we present and collaborate with our members and other partners across a variety of platforms: broadcast, podcasts, smart speakers, mobile apps. To navigate this multiplatform landscape, NPR uses a variety of systems for production, distribution, archiving, and support functions like analytics, identity management, etc.
Metadata is essential for integration and efficiency. Our most mature systems automate capture and generation of descriptive metadata to ease the burden on users; and we’re also starting to automate use of semantic tagging from controlled lists curated by our team of information scientists. Not every system is this developed, but as our systems evolve and mature, increasing use of standardized metadata from common, authoritative sources, improves that efficiency and enables new opportunities.
RW: Can you discuss another example of the kind of application that typifies metadata trends?
Gray: A key focus of the North American Broadcasters Association’s Future of Radio and Audio Symposium is hybrid radio. That is an umbrella term to refer to a range of technologies melding broadcast and internet.
Last year NABA published “The Value Proposition of Radio in a Connected World,” which addressed how metadata is essential for success with hybrid radio, connected cars and apps on mobile devices. There are a variety of technologies, RDS, IBOC, RadioDNS, available for broadcasters to link additional data and images to broadcast streams. These can range from whatever they can put in RDS’ 128 characters all the way to entire interactive websites synchronized to the broadcast stream. Many folks are already familiar with artist name, title and album art available from the HD Radio Artist Experience. With emerging technologies like 5G and smart speakers moving to cars, media producers can link content across platforms — so a song or interesting story they hear in their car can be tagged to be finished on a mobile device later, or additional, related material can be tagged to be explored on another platform or device.
RW: What would you say is a key takeaway from this discussion?
Gray: Capture your metadata early and often, and keep it handy; it’s the glue that ties your supply chain together and the lubrication that moves your content through it. We talk a lot about the importance of metadata to enhance the listener experience and create opportunities for audience and revenue growth. That assumes metadata is available. Consider the entire lifecycle, from initial idea to audience discoverability to long-term preservation, and best practices in the care and feeding of enabling metadata.”
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