NOVEMBER 4, 2020

Auditing Your Broadcast Archive Methods

using archival footage in the broadcast newsroom

Some of Netflix’s most-watched programming right now is the documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door. As director Jenny Popplewell told Men’s Health, the story is told solely through archival footage that includes home videos, news footage, and social media.

American Murder is a compelling example of how archival footage can be mined for stellar new programming. Most broadcasters have a treasure trove of material—footage, completed programming, text, graphics—slumbering in their archives, ready for new life. The question is, can you find what you’re looking for?

Your video archiving methods need to be top-notch for you to readily repurpose (or resell) your archival content, whether that’s to create brand new programming or to add context and color to current stories. With these best practices in tow, your team can make the most of your newsroom’s assets.

1. Tune Up Tagging

When creating tags and defining metadata is left up to personal preference, you end up with a mess of redundant or useless tags. Even a single-letter typo in a tag can make a file nearly impossible to find via search. Consider automating all or some of how you tag and index: systems that provide templates or prepopulate tags as you type let your team work faster and keep everything aligned.

2. Sync Up Storage

You’ve probably got some storage silos, and ransacking your servers to find a crucial item when you’re on deadline is enough to make an editor cry. A shared storage solution makes it easier to find and repurpose those hidden gems, virtually grouping flash, online, finishing, nearline, and archive storage systems into one searchable repository.

3. Refine Your Search Skills

Google has made everyone a little lazy. But the more specific you can be in a massive archive with millions of entries, the faster you’ll get the results you need. Every archivist should know how to use filters to search for audio, video, and metadata, but leveraging AI can make it even easier to navigate a media asset management system. AI helps archivists search by facial recognition, speech-to-text, phonetic search, and more. (Making sure your video and any text transcripts are stored together can help get the most out of an AI solution.)

4. Lean on Proxies

If your archiving system relies on just text, you may feel like you’re flying blind. If all you have is a description of some footage, and the only way to guarantee what’s in the shot is to fully restore the media back from the archive, that’s time wasted. Weaving in the ability to view a proxy of that footage speeds up how quickly you can find the exact footage you need—after all, you can pull back just the clips that you want rather than the whole archived feed. Keep a proxy view available in your nearline footage as well. That way, you can browse a proxy, make a selection in a timeline, and trigger the system to bring back just the parts you need. It’s the choice between restoring a whole game or just the game-winning play.

5. Triage with Thought and Care

Ideally, you could keep absolutely everything. You never know, right? In reality, there’s a limit to how much you can spend on storage, so choices need to be made. Many news organizations keep to the bare minimum: they store edited packages and transmitted shows.

The challenge of live production during the pandemic has demonstrated that this bare-minimum approach, though cost-effective on paper, does introduce certain risks. While live productions are creeping back slowly and cautiously, it’s worth considering a more expansive approach to archiving. This is the perfect opportunity for editorial and archive teams to collectively review how they triage archival assets to ensure that they meet the needs of the editorial team when new footage isn’t readily available.

Broadcasting + Cable says broadcast archives are a way out of the pandemic-induced content void. And great content always deserves a second look. Whether you’re about to come across a hit documentary in the making or just enough material to put together some best-of moments for an upcoming town festival, the footage could be lurking in your archives. Sharpen your video archiving methods and root out some of those exceptional files gathering dust in storage.

  • Susan Kuchinskas Headshot

    Veteran tech journalist Susan Kuchinskas covers digital technology and media from the San Francisco Bay Area.

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