XML goes to the hoop

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HearIT: Audio interview with Dan Agan, ExcaliburTechnologies (5:57; RA, WM)

As the volume of streaming media grows, finding specific content can take a lot of time. For IT shops recently drawn into a world resembling the TV business, the need to index and manage such Web-borne multimedia presents new problems.

Those problems will become more complex as some organizations look to sell streaming content, but novel solutions are being considered. The National Basketball Association, for example, is at work constructing a Website to sell audio, video, and other forms of content over the Internet. Web experts hope that some new Web standards such as XML, the Extensible Markup Language, will reduce the amount of work needed to index and exchange data about such video streams.

The W3C group, a World Wide Web standards body that oversees Web standards, has been at work formalizing certain aspects of XML over a number of years. Companies helping the NBA to create a useful online library expect to use XML.

Perhaps more central to the quest to archive video streams is advanced pattern- recognition software of a kind once limited to military uses. Such software is moving, by way of broadcasting systems, into commercial IT departments. Some analysts call the emerging discipline "digital asset management."

Among the players in that area is Excalibur Technologies, a Herndon, Va., software concern that was formed in the early 1980s largely to address the imaging needs of government-related agencies. Earlier this year, Excalibur gained the endorsement of no less a technology powerhouse than Intel Corp., when the chip giant agreed to form a new public company that combined Excalibur with Intel's Interactive Media Services Division.

Last month, Intel, Excalibur, and the NBA launched an effort to develop and distribute sports content that includes enhanced broadband programming and interactive broadcasts. The NBA hopes to provide access to some 50 years of NBA footage, said Dan Agan, Excalibur's vice president of corporate marketing. Eventually, the NBA will offer personalized, on-demand views of favorite players in action.

Enhancements to Screening Room Capture, Excalibur's flagship software program, are intended to meet the NBA and others' evolving requirements. Screening Room allows organizations to "get their arms around their video content" and then easily push that out to an online environment, Agan said.

Moreover, Screening Room Capture will soon allow index information to encapsulate as metadata in an XML format.

A common shorthand definition of metadata holds that it is information about information. Thus, information that tells a developer, a programmer, a machine, or a user about video content is metadata. The usefulness of the emerging XML standard in that regard is that it may someday provide a standard way of interchanging, for example, indexing information on a recording of Michael Jordan moving to the hoop, Bill Russell blocking a shot, or Dennis Rodman chest-thumping a referee. If client or server computers can extract such data quickly, then highly interactive online events will become a reality.

A range of uses exist for such technology, Agan said. That includes everything from enabling advertising agencies to look through clips of commercials that directors have produced to pick talent, to enabling international banks to acquire knowledge of far- flung analysts, using video and an in-house Web server.

As part of the agreement to develop a state-of-the-art interactive streaming system, the NBA will join Intel and Excalibur as a stake holder in Convera, the new company they are forming. The new company will offer services that will include key Intel and Excalibur technologies such as content protection, indexing, and search of digital materials.

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