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.

Filed Under: archives, digital, hollywood, movies


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  1. icon
    AG (profile), 26 Dec 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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