AWS for M&E Blog

Successful innovation for ESSENCE as Starchive and AWS help deliver the 2020 ESSENCE Festival of Culture

This post is co-authored by Jack Wenzinger, AWS M&E Partner SA, Ken Shek, Sr. ML Specialist SA, and Richard Averitt, CEO of Starchive. The content and opinions in this post are those of the third-party author and AWS is not responsible for the content or accuracy of this post.

ESSENCE Communications is a media, technology, and commerce company dedicated to Black women that inspires a global audience of more than 31 million through diverse storytelling and immersive original content. With a multi-platform presence, the ESSENCE brand encompasses a signature magazine, television specials, books, digital platforms, and live events, including Black Women in Music, Black Women in Hollywood, Street Style and the ESSENCE Festival of Culture. ESSENCE Communications is owned by ESSENCE Ventures, an independent Black-owned, consumer technology company merging content, community and commerce to meet the evolving cultural and lifestyle needs of people of color. ESSENCE has been in service to the community for 50 years and, with the help of and AWS, celebrated this landmark anniversary with a major virtual event to mark the occasion.

In 2018, ESSENCE Magazine was purchased from Time Inc. by Richelieu Dennis, founder and chair of ESSENCE Ventures. Starchive, a cloud native media asset management (MAM) platform running in AWS and a member of the AWS Partner Network, was chosen as the media asset platform to help extract ESSENCE content from the Time Inc. ecosystem and help organize the hundreds of thousands of images and more than 6,000 hours of video spanning the life of the magazine.

Each year in July, ESSENCE holds the ESSENCE Festival of Culture, the world’s largest cultural, music, entertainment, and empowerment experience and the global epicenter of Black culture.  This festival has created a home for Black artists and communities around the world for 26 years. The multi-day celebration draws more than 500,000 attendees annually and contributes almost $300 million in economic impact over the July 4th weekend in New Orleans. In 2020, ESSENCE had planned an impressive schedule of activities and celebrations to begin launching in May in honor of its 50th anniversary. Then the COVID-19 global pandemic began. As the ESSENCE team saw the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on its community, they decided it was more important than ever to deliver the love, laughter, fun, and empowerment that the festival had become known for. So, for the first time in the festival’s 26-year history, the event was produced as a fully virtual experience spanning two weekends of programming that sought to entertain, empower, inspire, educate and mobilize. 2020 ESSENCE Festival of Culture: Unstoppable Virtual Experience Presented by Coca-Cola was held June 25-28 and July 2-5 and streamed on the ESSENCE Studios platform.

Determined not to lose the milestone of their 50th anniversary, the ESSENCE team set out to re-imagine their plan to engage with their fanbase in a compelling way by leveraging their archive of digital assets representing the rich history of the magazine.  However, the searchability of fifty years of content posed a major challenge to the team. Like many large archives, every asset was available in Starchive with technical data associated with it, but a large percentage of the assets had little or no contextual metadata to help inform who or what was contained in the video file. This is a common challenge when managing assets over time, and one that is exacerbated by on-premises archive strategies. These archives commonly suffer from “metadata atrophy,” meaning that different documentation standards are applied over time and data is lost as the content goes through multiple technology refreshes or organizational changes.

ESSENCE reached out to Starchive in early March to ask if machine learning technology could be leveraged to organize their rich archive in time for the ESSENCE team to use the content for their 50th anniversary. Starchive collaborated with the Amazon Rekognition team at AWS to explore options and decided to run a test with two separate AWS solutions, Media2Cloud and Media Insights Engine. Media2Cloud is a serverless ingest framework for getting content under management that leverages AWS machine learning tools to enrich descriptive, time-based, metadata. Media Insights Engine is similar to Media2Cloud, but focuses primarily on the machine learning and metadata enrichment aspects of content processing. After an analysis of the two possible solutions, Starchive selected Media2Cloud as the solution best suited to meet the archive processing requirements of ESSENCE.

Starchive is built to receive the highest resolution files of any media type, automatically probe the data from those files, run them against a variety of AI tools to enrich the data, and transcode those files into a preview file optimized for high quality streaming on the web. Starchive used proxy files rather than source assets to speed up processing and provide Media2Cloud with consistent file types and size specifications.

In just eight days, Starchive processed 328,710 minutes (5,478.5 hours) of video for ESSENCE, tagging every celebrity along the timeline in each video. David Yu, VP of Technology Infrastructure at ESSENCE, believed the alternative would have been to hire three interns for at least a year to watch and tag each video, while also introducing a higher likelihood of mistakes due to user error.

In seconds, the ESSENCE team was able to start using the Media2Cloud application in combination with a file ID matching tool built by Starchive to relate any video proxy to its source video. As a result, ESSENCE was able to use extraordinary video clips to illustrate 50 years of ESSENCE history in time for its anniversary celebration in May, then for its first-ever virtual ESSENCE Festival of Culture. In addition, ESSENCE has now unlocked immense latent value in their archive by making it possible to find and curate media assets related to any celebrity in minutes. Thanks to Starchive and AWS, the ESSENCE team can leverage an improved search experience, reducing the time it takes to surface key imagery and content necessary to expand their brand and increase monetization opportunities, maximizing the magazine’s impact.