From the humble biographers to creative trailblazers, we archive nerds like to think we play the Watson to digital creatives’ Sherlock Holmes. Here’s why we get along so well, and why we’re so excited to sponsor Melbourne WebFest.

By Preferred Media (aka media archive nerds / your friendly content management experts).

Digital innovation: your future and ours

Web series creators are innovators. The medium demands it! Dreaming up new formats. Telling new stories. Working with budgetary constraints. As we found with our recent industry-spanning report, budgets are under pressure as a rule. So now more than ever, innovation is the key to success and web series creators embrace that.

Necessity is the mother of invention – but it’s more than that. A new medium provides the space for experimentation and attracts creatives who are willing to take risks.

Archivists don’t have a reputation for taking risks. But believe it or not, we’re innovators at heart. Managing digital media demands it! We’ve been in business for almost 4 decades, so we’ve lived and breathed the digital revolution.

Walk into our media vault (bring a jacket, it’s a bit chilly) and you’ll see rows of neatly stacked 35mm film reels and funky analogue tapes sitting alongside boxes of hard drives. Humming away in the background is a state-of-the-art digital tape library robot that eats 8K raw files for breakfast. It’s the revolution in moving image production writ large.

Digital offers so many opportunities for improved media management. Search, metadata, access – anytime, anywhere! No wonder we’ve adopted technological solutions with a passion.

But digital doesn’t magically solve all our common problems

Digital technology has brought amazing opportunities and brilliant new capabilities. But it’s not all rainbows and cat videos (or rainbow cat videos). As anyone who’s tried to build their own file-based workflow knows, there are always compromises.

Buying a shiny new piece of tech that promises to solve all your problems… but creates ten new problems? We’ve all been there. Ask anyone whose Google maps app died on the way to a job interview.

Here’s some problems shared – and here’s hoping that means some problems halved.

1.    Content is big and getting bigger

Content volume is a huge headache for content creators and archivists alike. (A problem we love to have, but still a problem.) Picture quality has exploded… It’s not just the fabled extra ‘K’s’ but improved dynamic range and colour. You want to store at the maximum quality you can manage – because your content that starts out HD for Youtube, may end up on a streaming platform at 8K… Who knows what the future will bring? Sadly, this means large file sizes that can be a headache to manage.

But large file sizes aren’t the only thing increasing content volume. We interviewed Paul Walton of Princess Pictures and he raised an important issue. Shoot ratios have gone through the roof. Deadpool had a shoot ratio of 308 to 1. A huge increase compared to the typical Golden Age of Hollywood average of 10 to 1! But while the cost of digital footage is nothing like film, what about the cost of time and management of the additional footage? It would take you 14 weeks at 40 hours a week to watch all the raw footage for Deadpool!

It all means that to succeed you really need to double down on your planning.

We know that web series creators are planning for future revenue streams by innovating with formats.  Co-WebFest founder Steinar Ellingsen told us last year that creators are making content which can be distributed in multiple forms for multiple platforms. In short form, as a miniseries or also as a feature film.

You might consider keeping rushes for future re-use. Even licensing as stock footage for certain types of content. You’ll need to keep track of your usage rights. A digital asset management system can help with that. As archivists, we can help keep large volumes of media secure, while controlling costs with media lifecycle management.

So careful planning can not only keep the costs of media management and storage down, it can open up future revenue streams.

2. Storage media is actually getting more volatile, not less

So you can store much much more content than ever before. But the reality is that it can all disappear in an instant. In fact, Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the internet has warned that we are entering a “digital dark age”. (For a chilling read, check out these content loss horror stories).

It seems like a paradox, because isn’t digital supposed to improve absolutely everything? But, while our capacity to capture and store content has increased exponentially, the longevity of media has actually decreased over the years (see a cool graph here).

Archeologists are still digging up perfectly legible clay tablets from ancient times. Compare that to hard drives. People often don’t realise how high the failure rate is for drives – 1 in 5 will fail over a 4 year period. They should never be an option for lasting archive.

It’s not only the ability to overwrite or the failure rate of the technology. Obsolescence is the biggest threat.

Take the floppy disk. (That’s the ‘save’ icon, in case you’re too young to remember!) Even if you can find a machine to run it, the program that created the content may no longer exist. So it becomes unreadable.

Why you need a Watson

Preservation is much more than creating a backup. That’s why you need some archive nerds (aka content management experts) at your side.

Better than a backup

We provide a service where we copy your content to stable digital tape (LTO) for you. We make 2 copies and store them separately. So you have redundancy. But we go further than most because we commit to content availability into the future. We preserve the hardware, software and the storage media.

Why does this matter? Because Netflix are making it a requirement of distribution that the content be available for 15 years.

With our service, it’s easy to find what you need when you need it. You can search and view your content online at anytime.

But it’s more than cloud

Cloud storage is one way to achieve offsite redundancy. But uploading can take forever and trash your bandwidth.

That’s why we introduced a digital collection feature that manages your uploads for you.

You can schedule your content uploads to the archive. You can time it for the middle of the night, so you don’t annoy the people who are sharing your internet connection. And you can set a bandwidth limit too. (Or we can simply pick up your hard drive. Sometimes it’s still the fastest way!)

When you’re designing your production workflow or planning your budget, there are some aspects of a production that, let’s admit, are more exciting than others. Asset management is not top priority for most creatives. And that’s where your archivist comes in. Ultimately, we exist to simplify life for content creators. With that simplicity comes peace of mind and the ability to focus on the real creative work.

That’s why we go together, like Holmes and Watson.