Digital Records Tracking

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Most TV stations rely on human memory for locating particular tapes in their vast libraries, but if a station doesn’t have an employee who’s been around for 30 years, it could be out of luck when it comes to tracking down old tapes. Tapes are dusty and footage is hard to find, yet stations aren’t sure how to grapple with the staggering task of how to convert their tape libraries to a digital form.
The cost for such a system is high and the process is astoundingly labor-intensive. Station executives are now in the early stages of determining how the archaic process of information retrieval fits into the new digital environment taking shape.
The notion of digital asset management is just beginning to emerge at local stations, said David Lipsey, VP media and entertainment at Artesia Technologies in Rockville, Md., an asset management firm. The initial cost for a system for a local station can range from $150,000 to $350,000, including software, hardware, training and service, he said.
The thought of having all your newscasts and B-roll in a “Google all your own” is appealing and likely to happen in time, said Larry Wert, general manager for NBC owned-and-operated station WMAQ-TV in Chicago. “All the systems on the front end have to be digitized, and then there needs to be a process in place and a warehouse, i.e., server,” he said.
Such a system would enable quicker and deeper access to video, which means stations can find the best clips and not just settle for token footage.
News archives also have great value from a historical standpoint, said Bill Bauman, general manager for NBC affiliate WESH-TV in Orlando, Fla.
WESH had planned to work with local stock footage company WorldClips to see if selling news as stock footage was possible, but the project didn’t take off, said Gary Isaacson, president of WorldClips. “The problem isn’t that there isn’t something there, but it’s panning for gold. You have to go through so much crap. It’s labor-intensive.”
That’s why a station shouldn’t digitize everything it has done, just the top stories from its archives, such as the 1978 killing of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, said Jeff Block, general manager for Cox-owned Fox affiliate KTVU-TV in San Francisco.
“We’d love to be able to have news archives that were immediately retrievable for everything we’ve done,” he said. But the price is still too high, especially for a station that produces six hours of news each day or 42 hours per week.
The cost comes in two parts. A station first needs to invest in a digital asset management system that would allow it to digitize all content going forward. Piggybacking off that system, a broadcaster can then digitize, or at least catalogue, important footage from the past. That cost lies in the labor required to scroll through reels of old tapes and film to locate material that is worth transferring to a digital file, a process that could be undertaken by a retired station employee, said Sharon Blair, project manager for the local television project at the Association of Moving Image Archivists.
Once a station has a handle on its content, the footage could be used for promotions, historical documentaries and in related news stories.
“I think stations have a nagging realization that there is [good footage], and they want to know where it is,” she said. “It’s like knowing you want to catalogue pictures from your childhood.”