Hollywood's Worried About The Wrong Thing When It Comes To Digital Archives

from the misplaced-worries dept

Is it really any kind of surprise that Hollywood is worried about the wrong thing? The NY Times ran an interesting article this past weekend about how Hollywood is starting to freak out over the potential costs of digitally archiving movies. Currently, film archives are simply stored in cool places, like salt mines -- but Hollywood doesn't quite know what to do with digital archives, and a new report has them freaking out about just how expensive it will be to store digital content. There are many reasons why this worry is misplaced -- starting with the simple fact that whatever it costs today is only getting cheaper, and that trend is only going to continue for the foreseeable future. However, we've talked about the risks of digital archiving and "digital extinction" before, and the threat is completely overblown and often misplaced.

The problem isn't with what it costs to store content. Storage is cheap and getting cheaper all the time. The real problem is that those doing the archiving keep wanting to put their content into proprietary formats which will rapidly go extinct. If, instead, Hollywood focused on storing (and making many, many copies) of the content in more open, easily accessible formats, this wouldn't be a problem at all. Hell, I'm sure the experts over at the Internet Archive, Google or Amazon would all be thrilled to help Hollywood preserve its digital films. However, since Hollywood is so freaked out by technology these days, the chances of them letting any of those organizations help out (even a not-for-profit one like the Internet Archive) seems slim to none.

In the meantime, why not get creative? How hard would it be to create a system that would build a p2p storage system for Hollywood archives, where lots of folks could store bits and pieces of movies for the studios in exchange for... say... a free sneak preview of an upcoming blockbuster? It's the sort of thing that the community would love to take part in... but, of course, in MPAA land anything P2P must be evil.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    TheDock22, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 9:50am

    Startup costs

    I think the industry is looking purely at the startup costs for implementing this new system, which would be horrendous (maybe the cost of a blockbuster). Maintaining the system would not be that bad and would go down as time wore on.

    Also another huge cost would be security and keeping hackers from stealing full digital movies. I could see many down sides to implementing such a system, but in the end I think Hollywood needs to accept everything is moving to digital and hard media will be a thing of the past in 20 years or so. Might as well jump ship now than later since the startup costs will grow exponentially the longer they wait.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:08am

    Securing digital movies isn't all that hard, or expensive. The simple, and least expensive option, is to store the movies onto a medium that is at most only a local network - with NO internet or external access. Then the issue becomes a simple physical security issue.

    The only real issues are what medium to store the digital movies on, copying the movies to that medium, and how to maintain it. Store multiple copies with some copies being stored in geographically separate locations and I'm pretty sure that the studios would probably still be paying less than they spend on donuts over the course of a blockbuster movie.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:40am

    p2p is not a storage system

    P2P is a distribution system, not a storage system. If you don't believe me, then just try to download a movie that was released a couple of years ago. Even if it was popular then, there will be little or no seeders now and downloading it will be imposible.

     

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  4.  
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    AG (profile), Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:40am

    Not so misplaced

    A couple of points are missed here, I believe due to some confusion about the motion picture industry.

    1. There is a significant difference between the level of technology used to produce films than that used to distribute them. It is true that storage is cheap and getting cheaper. However the storage needed for the uncompressed original footage is thousands of times greater than that needed to store a finished DVD or digital cinema distribution copy. The assertion made in the NYT article that digital storage is more costly than the analog storage is correct, largely because analog information can is stored in very dense media such as a 70mm camera negative.

    2. The reason that movie studios use 'proprietary formats' to archive their content is that these are the formats necessary to digitally acquire, manipulate and produce films of acceptable quality. There is no consumer market for 4K digital intermediate motion picture file formats, any more than there is a consumer market for 70mm film cameras or projectors. While the divide between consumer and professional technology is narrowing somewhat in television technology, this is not the case in theatrical films. The hardware used to produce films -- and thus the file formats used to store these images -- are simply out of reach of the consumer. Someday this will not be the case, but until then it is not valid to suggest that a motion picture studio use consumer-accessible file formats for its archives.

    3. P2P storage is an effective way to efficiently distribute current and timely information. It is not an effective way to maintain a long-term archive. The studios' business model relies upon keeping its intellectual property safe and accessible for the life of the copyright, regardless of the current level of interest. Think back to the height of the Napster/Kazaa craze a few years ago. Is every pop song that you shared still on your hard drive? If so, will it still be there in five, ten, twenty, or fifty years the next time it needs to be accessed?

    The basic issue here is that technology is now changing more quickly than the value of the content. To wit: if I handed you a motion picture film from 1875 you would be able to hold it up to the light and see an image. If I handed you an 8" floppy disk from 1975, it is highly unlikely that you would be able to read the data, not only because the physical media is less stable but because the equipment used to read the media has become obsolete. Part of the increased cost of digital media archives is the need to periodically recopy and convert the archive as technology advances.

    Yes, the media industry in general is overly concerned about file sharing and feels unnecessarily threatened by the internet. But this is entirely unrelated to content archiving. Archivists just want to keep stuff safe and accessible, and have a completely different set of motivations than the businessmen concerned about the internet's impact on box office and DVD sales.

     

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  5.  
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    Jon, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:42am

    Digital archiving on film

    One of the other things missing from the article is that the currently preferred method of digital archiving is actually to encode the digital data (in a proprietary format of course... nutty) back to FILM and then store the film in the salt mines.

    We've been putting digital data on film for many years and this is in fact how all optical soundtracks are encoded today on release prints. Dolby Digital and SDDS in particular if you look at the print under a microscope the data patterns are all there, and the film can last for 100 years.

    Of course, the problem of having any machines and decoding software for the archival in a 100 years is still a problem.

     

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    Mike (profile), Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:43am

    Re: p2p is not a storage system

    P2P is a distribution system, not a storage system.

    P2P, by itself, is a distribution system, but there are P2P storage systems as well. I'm suggesting they could set one up. I'm not saying using a traditional P2P distribution system, but setting up a P2P storage system.

     

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    chris (profile), Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:47am

    Re: Startup costs

    they could start tomorrow using amazon's simple storage system:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html?node=16427261

    the startup cost would be transferring all of the data in, but that's a one time cost (10 cents per gig)

    after that, monthly storage fee is 15 cents per gig per month.

    i am sure the agents and lawyers that power hollywood could probably negotiate a much better deal. 15 cents per gig month is the retail rate.

    as for security, well, most of the stuff that gets released early on bit torrent is leaked from insiders, rather than the result of hacking. presumably, that will be the issue with digital archives as well.

    the archives could be encrypted before uploading. since this is a storage method rather than a content delivery system, the encryption is far less subject to compromise because the keys do not have to be distributed to allow playback like they do with DRM'd content delivery.

     

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  8.  
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    fishbane, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 10:57am

    I think invoking the 'cheap and getting cheaper' mantra here is misplaced. As an analogy, I'll use my own experience with digital photography.

    My first digital camera was the Apple camera. 640x480. I took shots like a meth head with OCD, and needed more storage. I spent about $400 (I think) on a honking huge 8 G drive. That, plus backups (the CDR I already had), stored my output for about 2 years.

    Fast forward to today. I currently use a 10Mpix SLR that I've had for about a year, and I still take pictures like a crazy person. I quickly needed more storage. I bought a honking huge 2T external disk array for just under $800. that, plus backup to the DVDR I already have, is now about half full. So, it looks like I'm on target to get about 2 years worth of storage for inflation unadjusted 2x cost.

    A 640x480 JPG is going to weigh in somewhere in the 40-60K range most of the time. a 10Mpix RAW photo, an output JPG (assuming you only do one), and associated metadata is going to end up in the 15M range. (Some photos I have are in the 50-60M range, due to multiple versions.)

    Extrapolate another 10 years, and I fully expect to spend more than $1500 on a huge array to be in the same place I am now, or much earlier, if my SO can't keep me from getting a shiny video camera, something I've never had before and will probably be just as prolific with.

    I don't know the size of the average all digital movie, including original footage, outtakes, multiple scene versions, metadata, etc. is, but it has to be orders of magnitude greater. Sure, a film shot now will be cheaper to store in 10 years than it is now. But a film shot in 10 years will likely cost more to store than one shot now, as well.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 1:49pm

    Content is for the Dogs

    Personally, I like my dogs better than anything that comes out of Hollywood. When they find some way to provide the experience one can have with a real loyal dog, then we are all in trouble.

    One is named Bill, the other is named Hillary. I got Bill around the Monica Lewinsky issues. Hillary is two months old.

    I've scaled back a lot in technology since NBC left iTunes, and truly believe that dogs are the best investment into entertainment, and started spoiling my dogs.

    I never have to worry about lawsuits, and the love is genuine. Look into getting one.

     

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  10.  
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    Nick (profile), Dec 26th, 2007 @ 2:55pm

    According to Lawrence Lessig's "Free Culture," the real cost of digital archiving is hiring lawyers to clear the rights for films still under copyright that should have fallen into the public domain now that the Sonny Bono Act has extended copyright once again. This includes tracking down the rights holders, despite the fact that there is no directory of rights holders. The cost of restoration is now so low that it is below the cost of clearance. Then there is the threat that new rights holders can emerge and sue companies trying to restore the films. This makes the cost restoration not even worth the cost and the films made between 1923-1932 will now rot in the vault before they can enter the public domain. You have Sonny Bono's rent-seeking widow, Mary Bono, to thank.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2007 @ 3:22pm

    One of the big problems not specifically discussed is keeping track of and retrieving all the stuff archived - it's perfectly feasible to store almost everything and not be able to find most of it. It's easy to assume that Goolge will solve that problem, but then most problems we don't understand are easy.

     

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  12.  
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    4-80-sicks, Dec 27th, 2007 @ 7:49am

    Re: #4

    The assertion made in the NYT article that digital storage is more costly than the analog storage is correct, largely because analog information can is stored in very dense media such as a 70mm camera negative.

    Six foot wide reels of film are not smaller or cheaper than 1TB hard drives.

    The reason that movie studios use 'proprietary formats' to archive their content is that these are the formats necessary to digitally acquire, manipulate and produce films of acceptable quality. There is no consumer market for 4K digital intermediate motion picture file formats, any more than there is a consumer market for 70mm film cameras or projectors. While the divide between consumer and professional technology is narrowing somewhat in television technology, this is not the case in theatrical films. The hardware used to produce films -- and thus the file formats used to store these images -- are simply out of reach of the consumer.

    Those formats are necessary for editing, not for maintaining copies of the finished film. Additionally, hardware does not dictate file formats at all, and never has.

     

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  13.  
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    AG (profile), Dec 28th, 2007 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re: #4

    The NYT article correctly cites the film industry's desire to store not just finished copies of movies, but the outtakes as well. A commonly used digital intermediate file format for feature film production requires 50MB per frame. At 24 frames per second, a two hour feature takes up 8TB. With a typical 10:1 shooting ratio you've got 80TB of media to archive for a single movie.

    Film negative used for movies does not technically have more data density per square inch than today's hard drives (although there are experimental holographic film emulsions that do). The cost advantages are process-related. For a traditional analog film archive, you simply put the material on a shelf and the costs are shipping and storage. For a digital archive, there are additional costs of transferring the media from the production server onto an archive format, backing it up, and periodically recopying as old physical formats become obsolete. The shelf life of film negative is well-known. The shelf life of a 1TB hard drive is not well-known, and is not believed to be as long as the film.

    The file format used for archived media would need to have similar or identical characteristics to the file format used to edit the media, if the archived media is to have value as a raw material from which to produce future media products. The path that digital media takes from acquisition to manipulation to distribution/consumption generally involves lossy compression. When designing a path for digital media to take from acquisition to archive for the purpose of future manipulation and reuse, quality loss is not desired.

    Hardware does not dictate file formats, but technical requirements influence, if not dictate, both. Consumers don't need to edit material for projection on a 70 foot screen, thus consumer electronics equipment and the formats suitable for the consumer are generally not interchangeable with professional cinema production formats. Again, the technological gap is only going to get smaller over time, but today it remains fairly wide.

    I can understand that people outside of the industry might make naive assumptions about cinema technology, but I am puzzled as to why the topic of this New York Times article is drawing criticism and dismissal. There are plenty of excellent reasons to dislike Hollywood, but its desire to preserve digital media assets is not one of them. The technical challenges discussed in the article are real, and well-known to the archivists and engineers who design and operate media archives.

     

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