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Premium Review

Updated March 2020

Introduction

VSN solutions span the media supply chain,  particularly targeting the early stage of the supply chain (planning, scheduling and acquisition) and management of finished content (archive, distribution & syndication, linear TV). The software is also well featured for aspects of production, and publishing (OTT, VOD and social media).  Available as a ready-to-use cloud platform or for out-of-the-box on-premise turn-key delivery, VSN solutions offer a high level of configurability to meet customer-specific statements of work (SOW) and can be deployed in partnership with customer project teams. If you are looking for a highly capable and flexible media asset management and workflow solution with support from a highly experienced team, then VSNExplorer is for you. If you are looking for software components to self-build a solution though, as some vendors position themselves, then this is not what you are looking for. VSN offer a wide range of commercial models with capex pricing for perpetual licensing or opex for subscription licensing. The price point is typically calculated by a combination of user count, resource integrations, software modules and workflows implemented. No information has been provided by VSN on actual pricing levels, so you'll need to ask them directly. VSN offers their solutions worldwide, but Western Europe and Latin America are the geographic regions that VSN has deployed the most solutions, with growing numbers also seen in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, CIS and the Middle East. ​

Premium Review

ARCHITECTURE

VSN Explorer appears to have a flexible and scalable architecture, scoring highly in our 'Tenancy & Sharing', 'Geographic Flexibility' and 'Ownership & Services' technology enabler categories. With features such as rights management, in-app chat & communications framework, and fine-grained access control, it has a combination of content security and collaborative tools to support simple and complex supply chains.

 

VSN Explorer can be installed on-prem, cloud or hybrid, with multi-site support and location awareness (human, machine and service). Finally, in the 'Core Underlying Technology' and 'Modern Devops Technology Stack' categories, it should be noted that VSNExplorer is built on a service-oriented architecture platform and it is based on micro-services, adopting elasticsearch for indexing and searching. It also uses non-relational databases, specifically within the VSNExplorer Exchange module, to store all the media transfers performed by the users from different nodes and locations.

INTEGRATION

VSN Explorer has an impressive integration capability, scoring strongly in our "integration Framework', 'On-Premise Resource Integration', 'Cloud Resource Integration' and 'Legacy Infrastructure Integration' technology enabler categories. This means that not only can it integrate to an impressive portfolio of modern resources (on-prem and cloud tiered storage, accelerated file transfer, AQC, transcoders, CMS, cloud linear playout, social media, and comms systems), but also the legacy resources that many other systems can't  (SDI to file ingest, SDI visual QC, file to SDI playout, VTR and Flexicart control, and other SDI glue). Importantly, VSN includes the tools and interfaces to implement the above and new integrations relatively easy (user-configurable plugins, scripted integrations in workflow nodes, RESTful API, SDK for plugin development) and supports industry standards (MXF, MOS and all standard AV containers and formats). If integration weaknesses are to be highlighted, these would include less strong support for the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) than some systems, no integration with third-party rights management, eCommerce or facility management systems, and no support for external vault libraries. ​​

AUTOMATION

VSN’s Broadcast Workflow Management system scored almost full points in every area we considered in this review. Its workflow configuration tools are extensive, including a graphical workflow designer that supports multi-path workflows, launching workflows from within workflows, scripted nodes, real-time metadata responsiveness and other industry-leading capabilities. VSN offers automated machine resource action assignment with load balancing and prioritisation and human resource task assignment with group and user task pools.

 

The VSN ability to monitor and report on the automation status seems equally comprehensive, with tabular and workflow graphical indication, and automated notifications on the UI, by email to user or group, and to external systems. It also claims to be able to use this data to help automate the scaling of resources, including spinning-up additional machine resources in the cloud or on-premise, or reallocating tasks to different human resource teams. The key automation limitation that we highlighted, which may or may not be important to you, is its lack of cost awareness. Some other systems on the market claim to track and forecast costs, and will select a resource to minimise operational costs. Despite this one limitation we believe VSN has one of the most capable automation capabilities on the market. ​

METADATA

The VSNExplorer metadata management capability is one of the best that we've reviewed - in fact, it is hard to find any significant limitations, scoring almost full marks in all areas considered. In addition to asset and business object metadata definitions, it also supports temporal and spatial metadata, and metadata is generated and managed for human resource, machine resource, and communications events. The metadata design tools appear to be quite comprehensive,  make building and managing the metadata definitions intuitive, even including the possibility of defining dynamic rules to make metadata fields interact between them.

It is worth highlighting the VSNExplorer asset right metadata capabilities, which most other systems that we have reviewed either do not have or at least are not as comprehensive. This includes asset-contract linking, version control and notifications, edit usage rules, asset download control, access revocation, sensitive material lockdown, asset expiration dates, limited use restrictions and archive restrictions.

 

VSNExplorer MAM uses the power of semantic searching to significantly improve how metadata is associated with the content and improve the ‘findability’ of content. It is now capable of syntactically cataloguing all the terms and sentences used in the description of scenes in order to achieve formal, unambiguous, accurate and user-agnostic metadata for content in any language. Qualifiers – such as colours, mood, commercial names, types of objects and so on - can be added to metadata in order to achieve even more precise search results. Advanced thesaurus management enables users to create different groups of terms and hierarchies by defining broader, narrower, related or preferred terms.

 

VSNExplorer is also integrated with an online thesaurus (Geonames, DBpedia, etc.) and allows import and export of these thesauri in formats such as SKOS. The thesauri allow for automatically linking and associating additional information extracted from the Internet (maps, locations, history, images, biography, etc.) to any concrete word that has been published, thanks to the Linked Data. These Linked Data obtain the additional information from contrasted databases, thanks to the use of metadata or ‘universal identifiers’ that are capable of identifying one word and automatically link more information about it - so that users can basically find all the information they need about a concrete topic.​​

USER EXPERIENCE

The VSNExplorer user experience scores well according to our assessment criteria, but of course, this is probably the most subjective of all the categories that we cover. Undoubtedly VSN offers a common look and feels across their UIs, with an ability to remove features by role, contextual to-do lists, and customisable table headers and filters. The responsiveness of the UI seems good, and its search capabilities comprehensive (see metadata section above).

 

As to limitations... While VSNExplorer offers a cut-cut non-linear editor, it does not claim to offer more advanced editing functionality. It supports voiceover recording & editing and caption generation, editing & viewing, and has introduced audio track selection and audio swapping.  It lacks any image manipulation tools such as object aware cropping or background removal.  It also does not offer the dual player for version comparison that some systems have. No Android or IOS apps are offered. If you're not looking for any of these specialist functions though, then we believe VSNExplorer provides a very positive user experience in terms of flexibility, appearance, performance and search capabilities.​

ANALYTICS

VSN Business Intelligence software offers a powerful set of tools that transform its metadata into meaningful information for business analysis purposes, extracting insightful reports for administration, finance and project management purposes, among others with different customizable views of graphs or tables. The design and presentation of the visualisation and delivery is a positive experience (including customisable, in-app tables and charts). Reporting and analytics are particularly strong for resource use (machine resource and human resource and asset usage by time, capacity and location, and asset usage by distribution and rights) and performance (jobs and task duration and throughput by user and group, queue times, per program time-to-air...). VSNExplorer lacks any form of financial analytics. It neither generates its own financial metadata nor imports it from external systems, so does not offer cost tracking, cost dashboard, billing info, cost vs budget or cost trends insights.  It also lacks a supply chain quality of services analytics (supplier quality, delivery time vs target, delivery quality). ​​

SECURITY

This is the only category that VSN scored less well in. We looked at five categories of security, built-up from best practices from multiple sources, including the DPP. We have relied on vendor feedback for this section as it is difficult for us to verify directly and we in no way claim to be security experts. Indeed, some security enablers in our assessment list may not be applicable to some applications.

 

From an operator perspective, VSN Explorer seems to have implemented most of the recommended best practice authentication, including the integration with standard protocol for exchanging authentication and authorization identities between security domains, such as SAML 2.0 to enable Single-Sign-On (SSO) practices. This includes secure centralised
authentication, a policy of 'principle of least privilege', secure passwords with a recovery mechanism, and functionality-based access control. It does not support multi-factor or biometric identification, nor implement inactivity timeouts or sensitive material re-authentication.

 

VSN scored well in their 'Documentation & Testing', with policy, audit and recovery procedures in place, data and platform recovery plans in place and tested, and all architecture changes logged. They also scored well on 'Prevention' with such practices as intrusion/injection prevention, object query limitation, server-side input validation, query parameterisation, and a RESTful API with all security clues hidden. In the areas of 'Logging & Forensics' and 'Secure Coding' VSN scored less well. In the former, there are no automated vulnerability scans, no monitoring of suspicious IP addresses, nor automated breach alerts. In the latter, VSN software does not implement a number of recommended best practices although the applicability of each to their architecture is not clear.​​

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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

VSNExplorer appears to be a market leader in terms of the breadth of third party AI/ML engines that it has integrated with, including the video indexing systems of IBM Watson, Google, Microsoft Azure, and other engines such as Etiqmedia and Vocapia. Probably because of this, it hasn't integrated into AI aggregators like Valossa, Veritone or GrayMeta.

VSN application of AI/ML focuses on video analysis for content identification, content recognition and detection, and technical detection and correction. This includes video analysis for content identification and association, content detection, recommendations and content similarities, identification of logical scene boundaries and automated compilation of storytelling clips. Recognition and detection extends to facial, emotion, age, logo, object, visual text, voice, language and language conformance. Technical includes colour detection and brand colour accuracy, but not colour correction.

From an operations management perspective, VSN claims to offer AI-powered resource and application optimisation, operations resourcing, and on-demand application and service sourcing. The extent of this needs further investigation.

VSNExplorer does not offer AI application for content creation - so no AI-powered identification of logical scene boundaries, an automated compilation of storytelling clips, and no automated highlights packages that some other vendors offer. It also doesn't offer the AI-powered fault prediction that some other systems provide, such as scenario matching and pattern matching fault prediction.