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.
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Filed Under: archives, digital, hollywood, movies

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  1. icon
    AG (profile), 28 Dec 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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