Digital – is the opposite of forever

I’m on a shoot, and during the day I run into some different cameramen also covering the event. We get to talking. One of them is a cameraman who has been working with Rueters for over a dozen years. We briefly discuss the cameras we are using, and then I ask him about archiving. It is a pretty interesting answer.

I did find it strange that in today’s day and age that they aren’t shooting in HD. He explains that for their application, no one is asking for HD yet, even though they are shooting with cameras capable of shooting in HD. I ask him why not shoot in HD, and finish in HD, and then just down convert? That way they will have everything they shot already in HD, when they switch over,  and it will be usable. His response was it wouldn’t matter the only media they archive is the finished edit.

Think about that. Not only are they not shooting in HD, which is easy enough to do, then edit in HD and archive your HD edit, they only archive the final edit. So there is the big picture – what is being lost.

There are thousands of (tens of, hundreds of, thousands of ?????) hours of history stored – Be it the raw footage from the newsreel days, or the gazillions of video tapes News divisions have shot over decades of tape based acquisition. These have been stored, and saved, and used for content in future years. Now however in the digital age, this is no longer the standard. There is just so much being shot, the storage requirements are staggering, and it isn’t ike film or tape, where if it properly stored, it will last decades or beyond. Hard drives fail, so you need to back up your footage onto 2, no now it is onto 3 different drives. Then every 3 to 5 years, you’ve got to clone those drives  You can see how the storage requirements are just insane.

This isn’t really a new problem. Storage of original material has always been an expense. Why store it? Why store original camera negative films, or original master video tapes – will we ever go back to them – well we might. A company may want to re-release a movie 10, 20, 50 years after it was originally released. A news organization may have a shot of someone, who becomes “newsworthy” 20 years after they were captured on tape? I don’t know if that justifies the expense, but that is just how things were done. Budgets were generated for this, technicians/librarians what have you, were hired to keep track of the material. It was archived. This is all gone now. Well, not all gone now, but on the way out.

Change because of “Digital” is not unique to our industry. By digital I mean a Non Physical media dependent storage system.


I know, that seems to make no sense.

You can shoot images onto film – after processing you can see the image – the image is “fixed” on a physical media. You can shoot analog onto tape, and the electronic signals are “fixed” onto a physical media. You can even shoot Digital onto tape (yes, you can do it.) The signals/information is on a fixed media, that is not only the capture media, but the ARCHIVAL media as well. Yes you can copy Film originated material, make black and white separations, but there is a generational loss. You can do the same with Analog tape formats, and there is a generational loss. With Digital originals on Digital tape, the generational loss tends to be MUCH MUCH smaller. But we are moving more and more to tapeless acquisition, and the media is not meant to be Archived. It is meant to be used again and again.

Film and Tape based media (on a professional level) is really meant to be used ONLY once. Sometimes people re-use tape stock, but it is really designed to be used once to capture the images/information. Reusing can lead to problems – the recordings aren’t so clean, the tape may stretch (with film you just get superimposed images), so it is safest to use the medium one time and one time only. So when you are done with it, store it or throw it away.

Not so with the new “Digital” media – Hard drives and Cards are meant to be used over and over. Even though prices drop and soon digital media data cards may be affordable as one time use recording mediums, are they going to be archived? Are they designed to last 5 years or more? Hard drives, no. Flash memory? Who knows what happens. So we have this problem. All this history, that used to be kept and archived, almost as a by product of news gathering, is now being lost.

I’m not the first person to think about this. I’ve read discussions by others about this. 50 years from now the future will know more about the world from fifty years ago as opposed to what is going on right now. It’s odd isn’t it. The media isn’t durable, and although it has become so inexpensive to shoot, the cost of archiving relative to the cost of gathering is so high, that it just becomes unaffordable. So we can now shoot far more material, we can afford to shoot far more material, but what happens to it after we are done with it? As the cost of the acquisition media goes down, the cost of archiving the data, recovering the data, goes up (especially in relation to the cost of the media.) When the originating media is also the archiving media, the costs are manageable. When you have to create additional elements, copies on new media containers, and migrate these every few years as the equipment and standards change, this ends up making it impossible to store it all.  So what is the final cost, how much do we lose because of the “cheapness” of the media?

Thanks for reading.


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One Response to Digital – is the opposite of forever

  1. Michelle Shyman May 1, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Also, the perceived value of stored images is less, simply because there is SO MUCH amateur media generated: less respect for news footage.

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