Paul Divall, Managing Director, Intelligent Technologies – The Jasco Group
As we replace manual and paper-based processes and methods with technological innovations and automated processes, the digital age is rapidly permeating every aspect of our world. Books, documents, sound recordings and the like are being converted for electronic storage, which is beneficial from a preservation and retrieval perspective. One such industry that can benefit from digitisation is the broadcast industry, particularly with regard to archived footage.
It’s easy to imagine warehouses and storage rooms filled with thousands of reels of broadcast recordings, taking up space, gathering dust and costing money. These physical repositories pose a risk and can easily be destroyed and lost forever. If not destroyed by fire or flood, these reels of film and tape will eventually degrade over time until they are no longer usable. By converting broadcast footage into a digital format now, broadcasters will be able to store archived footage safely and easily. In addition to being able to retrieve archived footage quickly, there are a number of other benefits that broadcasters will realise, through the digitisation of their historical footage.
It’s time to digitise the past
Southern African broadcasters host a sizeable collection of audio visual content that has specific value to our culture, society and history that has been built up as part of a mandate to document, preserve and conserve the audio-visual content for the purposes of informing, educating and developing our culture. These collections, particularly the 1-inch and U-matic tape formats, have suffered serious deterioration. Analogue media carriers and playback machines are now outdated, so reliability and maintenance thereof is becoming a major issue. Moreover, Video Tape Recorders (VTRs) are no longer in production and as such, there is a decline in the availability of spare parts or skilled technicians to service them. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to digitally reproduce these creative and historic assets in order to preserve them for future generations to use, before it’s too late.
Television broadcasters are faced with two sets of demands when it comes to their archived footage. One demand is being made from within their own organisation where there is a need to archive their output and mine previous outputs as a source for re-runs or to create a free library of footage. This type of demand is echoed by other broadcast companies and production organisations that are looking for such footage. The other demand comes in from those who wish to service or capitalise on the demand for archival TV. This can be, for example, teachers or historians and online television distributors like ShowMax and Netflix, looking to capitalise on old programming. Where the broadcaster is a public one, the argument has been made that archived material belongs to the public, because they paid for it. By digitising this content, broadcasters can make it available (on a free or pay-per-use basis) and can showcase the diversity of material that they hold, making it available to researchers and consumers in a convenient form.
It’s time to reduce the cost of your archive
By transferring to a digital archive this will reduce facility costs and space requirements significantly, allowing for optimised workflows in a file-based environment. In order to keep a tape media archive for the next 10 years and beyond, the recommendations from SMTPE and the tape manufacturers is to maintain constant cold temperature and humidity requirements, which mirror the requirements of datacentres. As the data density of analogue media is low, the space and cost of maintaining the archives becomes increasingly expensive while availability of playback machines and spare parts are increasingly limited. Transferring the archive into digital format will reduce costs of the overall facility including temperature control, a reduction in space requirements whilst optimising workflow and access in a file-based environment.
It’s time to monetise the past
Once historical tapes or reels (as the case may be) and their associated metadata have been digitised, it becomes quick and easy to search for a specific broadcast, which is particularly useful in live streaming scenarios. For example, a spectacular goal from a memorable sporting match could be retrieved and inserted into a current live match. As previously mentioned, digitised broadcasts could also provide a new revenue generation stream where this archived footage could be sold to other broadcasters and production houses. Every TV user is now accustomed to storing and retrieving programmes at home and this has been the case since VHS recorders became common in the 1980s, which generates an increased presumption that old shows and broadcasts must be available somewhere. Entire TV channels are built on the belief that archival material can find an audience well after its original broadcast and DVD releases of old shows continue to grow. It’s time for broadcasters to monetise these opportunities as new channels such as YouTube or Over the Top (OTT) services provide new demand for content and new ways to engage with audiences. Archival content is a unique asset, which could differentiate broadcasters from their competitors and reconnect them with their viewership.
How technology can help
It’s time for broadcasters to put in place a solution to efficiently and effectively promote tapeless workflows from beginning to end, as well as a preservation solution that can work archived physical footage for storage in a digital file based server system. Technology exists that makes it possible to undertake large-scale mass preservation and digitisation and migration of audio, video and film archives, automating as much of the process as possible to eliminate the opportunity for human error. This migration/digitisation is done in conjunction with restoration and treatment remedies to ensure that the digital footage is a faithful replication of analogue.
Once audio visual content has been electronically converted, there are technologies that offer access solutions that are either automated or offer assisted indexation, metadata management and documentation based on open standards for interoperability. Such solutions are secure and sustainable, effectively hosting, preserving and storing for access and enabling monetisation with media distribution partners. Digitisation partners are able to train broadcast staff on how to operate and manage these solutions in order to maximise productivity and potential for additional revenue. In short, the time for broadcasters to digitise their historical broadcasts and recording is now. Not only will it simplify their processes and allow broadcasters to finally retire outdated playback technology, it will open up new potential revenue streams, and bring to light previously unconsidered opportunities for education and research as well.
By Paul Divall
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