When a story breaks and you're sent scrambling to get reporters on the scene, archival footage offers a way to fill the gap. As the story develops, your media archive becomes a treasure trove of supporting content like previous incidents and shots of locations that enrich the story for viewers. And when conditions make on-the-spot reporting tough—be it war, an earthquake, or a global pandemic—your archive is even more important.
That same archive also holds sellable assets that can continue generating income long after the footage is initially shot. The documentary film business is thriving, and fact-based cable channels need a constant stream of archival footage. But assets you can't find are assets you might as well not have—so if your digital asset organization isn't up to speed, you're paying to store files you can't use. Conversely, a well-managed archive lets you continue to monetize existing assets. And when widespread quarantines made it hard to get new footage, broadcasters quickly learned the value of reusing archival footage.
Starting a media archive with good procedures in place from the beginning can save you from a lot of future headaches. But what do you do when your archive makes it hard to find what you need?
6 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Media Archive
Even with the best intentions, it's easy for an archive to morph into Frankenstein's monster as it grows. This happens for a variety of common reasons: assets are stored in different locations and formats; multiple archives are merged together; institutional knowledge is lost when people exit the organization.
If this sounds like your organization, you're certainly not alone. Getting a grip on your digital asset organization is a big undertaking, but it pays real dividends in the end. So where do you begin?
Here are six tips to start cleaning up your digital archive.
Not all assets in your archive are equal. First, decide which key elements of organization will make the biggest difference, or the highest return on investment, for your business. This might be a single content area that your business focuses on or one that might be ripe for monetization. Then, prioritize cleaning up that content before moving to other areas of your archive. Alternatively, you could focus on one part of the workflow, such as ensuring accurate metadata, rather than taking it all on at once.
Either way, breaking the project up into smaller pieces does more than just make the work more manageable—the progress you make can start paying returns before the cleanup effort is even completed.
2. Refine Tagging
A successful archive cleanup requires a solid plan for logging, tagging, and categorizing content. When you can't find media files you know are in the archive, chances are poor-quality or missing metadata is to blame.
It can be all too easy to end up with a variety of tags for the same thing. For example, "Oakland Athletics" might also appear as "Oakland As" or "Oakland A's." Hunt down these similar-but-not-equal terms and replace them with one consistent, descriptive tag—then, make sure the entire team understands and uses a consistent tagging convention going forward.
3. Get a Handle on Versioning
For most organizations, it's inevitable that more than one person will have their hands in managing digital content. Colleagues may create their own versions, making the media archive even more confusing. Ideally, everyone should be able to collaborate on the same files. Where this isn't a possibility, create a standard file-naming system that includes the date of revision and the name or initials of the editor.
Assigning different permissions to specific role types can also alleviate versioning issues. If only certain users of your asset management system can send material to the archive, there are fewer potential points of failure for improper versioning, nomenclature, or metadata entry.
4. Take Full Advantage of Existing Tools
Are you getting the most out of the technology you've already invested in? For example, is your asset management system able to automatically move files from online to nearline, to archive, and finally to offline storage? Does it let you build templates for adding metadata? Review the rules you or your tech team established for any automatic software operations to make sure you're getting the most out of existing automation.
5. Lean on AI
Many media asset management systems use features that incorporate artificial intelligence (AI). Say you need to quickly find that newsworthy moment in a public speech—AI can automatically transcribe speech to text for better searching. AI systems can also search using facial recognition, scene analysis, or optical character recognition (OCR), which comes in handy when files haven't been tagged with the right metadata.
As you think about how exactly to clean up your archive, consider leveraging AI tools at your disposal to speed up manual tasks, assist with asset prioritization, and pinpoint which areas of your archive truly need the most updating.
6. Take the Long View
A media archive will always be a work in progress. After an initial cleanup, schedule regular times for your team to revisit the archive and ensure everything is easily accessible. This also creates built-in opportunities to assess your technology and see if any new advancements could smooth the archiving process down the road.
It hurts knowing there's a great shot in your archive and not being able to find it. These assets should be a boon, not a pain point. If your media archive has gotten out of hand, it's well worth taking the time to clean it up before moving forward. You'll be laying the foundation for an effective archive that's built on solid digital asset organization strategies—one that's capable of enhancing your live news coverage and archival monetization efforts for the long run.