Ultima Studios fire underlines need for back-up plan but do African producers save copies of their work?

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The recent fire damage to Ultima Studios’ in Nigeria (see Broadcast News below) and the 2008 fire in Universal Studios’ video vault underline the importance of holding a back-up and making a proper archive of work. Balancing Act’s Sylvain Beletre looks at what the practice in Africa has been so far and suggests some easy ways to overcome the problem.

The good news regarding Ultima Studios' recent fire is that the chairman confirmed that they carefully save copies of their work.

Cherise Barsell, Executive Manager of Discop Africa (taking place this week) told us: “for producers, backing up audio-visual content is crucial. We have heard stories of African producers and broadcasters losing all equipment and film archives due to a coup d’état, political crisis, fire or theft. If you lose them, you lose years of work and potential clients”. “Our market attendees include several leaders in the film archive field who are helping African producers and broadcasters protect their content for future generations." Over the years, most films made on nitrate, their negatives and prints have simply crumbled into dust or get accidently destroyed. The same now applies to digital formats. However, an example of best practice in Hollywood is Sony, which maintains at least three versions of each asset (i.e. negative and two duplicate copies), and these are stored in three separate parts of the country.

Twentieth Century Fox has a similar policy. Disney undertook a year-long initiative to scan everything in its nitrate library, representing an estimated 16 million frames of film. Digital copies, as well as new film negatives, have been created as backup. Senior VP asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment Grover Crisp said that a key element to the preservation efforts of films is geographic separation. Studios also use various protective methods, such as security, dry piping and temperature and humidity control. Crisp warned that there is more to preservation than simply making digital copies. "You still want to maintain and hold on to the original, make copies, make sure the copies maintain the integrity of the original data, and store them geographically separate."

But in Africa, as you might guess, it is a different story: back-up is still seen as a rather expensive luxury. For years, many African producers and have lost film archives and broadcast stations have let their archives deteriorate. Many have relied on donors to support the storage of their content. European and French cultural organisations (like CNC/ACP and OIF) have provided financial assistance to make sure back-ups are made and that archive libraries are organised systematically. For example, this helped restore the “Cinémathèque” in Ouagadougou after the floods.

Another issue is that most audio-visual content produced before 2000 is only available on formats that are becoming redundant (Beta or VHS). When requesting masters of popular soap operas, producers, broadcasters and VOD distributors are often redirected to public TV channels that first screened them, and are faced with costly transfer from an ancient format to the one that is needed today. Often, many producers simply didn't keep any of their old work. Using affordable digital tools, what most small production houses do nowadays is to keep one or two back-ups in the office and one at home. Usually, there is also a high-res. copy with distributors and TV stations. For example, Janet Kanini Ikua at Exotic Expeditions Ltd. a producer in Nairobi told us: “In Kenya some years ago, a TV station was raided in a political move and lost lots of film archives. To make sure my content is protected, I make multiple copies on DVD storing them in different places and save a copy on to an external hard drive.” As a leader in the field, producer and distributor A24 uses cloud technology to store and back up its content. Asif Sheikh, A24 CEO explains that: “In Africa back-ups, if done at all, are in the form of tape or server systems to those that can afford them. Smaller stations re-use the tape thus losing the content forever.”

With new digital commercial platforms now available, African producers have the choice to not only monetize their film library globally, but can also have a back-up on these remote server platforms. Several platforms and projects are now available: Plan Image Archives Project from CFI (see interview below), the "mediapeers exchange"(see also interview below) or IDmage. mediapeers for example not only distribute films globally but also provides a redundant backup solution for African film titles.

As Tom Dreiseitel from mediapeers explains: “This is one reason why producers come to us is to sell their films world-wide. One of the benefits of using our solution is that we will keep their content safe in different locations at a very affordable cost. If they lose their originals, we can send them a high quality copy really fast.” More expensive options include paying a hosting or data centre company to continuously back work up. Martin Baker, a film producer located in Nairobi added: “There have been a number of fires in the last years at film labs, therefore I moved material to fire proof long term storage and fully insured it. The master material is securely stored for long-term protection, then a back-up on a hard disc. The hard disc back-up has to be held at separate locations in order to guaranty full protection.” Audiovisual content back up in Africa: mediapeers’ alternative A smart and probably undervalued way of securing your programmes and films is working with digital marketplaces. One such example is the mediapeers exchange, a global B2B online platform which enables film producers and distributors to boost visibility with their content to global buyers. Through this platform, the operating company is also offering various technical services including ingestion and storage of media.

Balancing Act spoke to Thomas Dreiseitel, Business Development Manager from mediapeers, on how African audio-visual content holders can benefit from using such an online marketplace and at the same time have an alternative backup and storage solution.

Q: Apart from your global distribution program, how can interested producers work with your ingest services? What can they expect from a full-fledged storage system?

A: A first possible step would be ‘Tape Ingest’. A distributor or producer has the movie on tape and wants to digitalize it. So he or she can send the tape to mediapeers and we will automatically create and transcode two digital copies of the movie. The first one is a LoRes file format suitable for online screening (e.g. on the mediapeers exchange). The second one is a HiRes file format in broadcasting quality (e.g. IMX50 for SD or XDCAM HD422 for HD resolutions). This second HiRes file can then be used again as a source for copies so that you already have the first instance of backup for your content.”

Q: What happens with the two files and the tape after the ingest process? Do you keep the original tape?

A: This decision is totally up to the producer himself. He or she can decide if they want the tape back immediately after the ingest process. We will then send it back and the producer will have to store it in his or her own premises. But as an alternative, they could also commission mediapeers to store the tape in our dedicated storage facilities instead.

Q: What happens with the Hi and LoRes files, and how do you protect them from destruction or data loss?

A: The LoRes file will be stored on the mediapeers exchange as a screening video - free of any costs. This is the video interested buyers can conveniently watch over the Internet. It’s a smart alternative to screener DVDs. The HiRes files will be stored on two fully redundant server facilities. The advantage is that there are two digital copies on two separated servers just in case one of the sites is hit by a storm, blackout or any other reason that may cause damage or disrupt access to the video file. By the way, as an interesting fact, our media storage archive was certified by the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America) to be a trusted system.

Q: What exactly do you need a HiRes backup version of the clients’ movies for? Can producers use your services to duplicate and distribute content?

Q: Both, from tape and from the HiRes video files we can create copies that we can send on your behalf to any specified client. You can even manage and track the shipping through our platform. Our technical capacities allow you to: - Create a copy of the physical tape that is stored in our storage facility (optional, only if you choose to store it with us) - Create a copy of the digital HiRes File and play it back on tape (outgest) - Create a digital copy of the HiRes file and send it electronically (download / ftp / sftp / Aspera server / CDN) - Order Transcodings of the digital HiRes files into any other technical formats - Transcode it into a DVD .iso image so that you can benefit from our automated supply-chain for your screening DVDs So, to sum it up, by using the mediapeers exchange you are not only benefiting from more visibility with global content buyers, you also get a backup of your movies, at least in a digital broadcasting file. Furthermore, you can also save yourself the hassle with technical formats and simply outsource it to mediapeers.

Q: This sounds expensive. How much do you charge for these services?

A: There are plenty of options and we offer very competitive prices. Transcodings are dependent on the tape or file and also the length of the movie, so the price differs accordingly. But with regards to backup and storage we offer the following: - Ingest from tape and transcoding into two digital files: 50.00 EUR per tape per hour - Storage of LoRes files for online screening on the mediapeers exchange: free of costs - Storage of HiRes files in broadcasting quality in our secure and redundant media archive: 0.12 Euro cents per GB. So a 30GB movie file would be 3.60 EUR per month. - Storage of a physical tape in our storage facility: 0.60 Euro cents per month per tape”.

 

Saving content in East Africa: Plan Image Archives Project Across Africa, many have deplored the loss of unique audio-visual content through sloppy procedures to preserve archives.

Guillaume Pierre, Director for Africa at CFI briefed Balancing Act Sylvain Béletre on Plan Image Archives Project in East Africa. Audiovisual players expressed a clear desire to address the archiving issue, from the standpoint of both heritage (aware of being the depositary of certain aspects of national history) and commercial strategy viewpoints (this collection has both broadcasting and commercial potential).

In response to the request from the East African Broadcasting Association, CFI offered to implement an 18-month project aiming to help the state radio stations and television channels of three East African countries – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - establish a policy to preserve and develop their archives. Based on a archive preservation initiative, this project hopes to create a more global reflective attitude on the issue in the corporations involved and to contribute to their strategic approach. Because stirring up memories is never neutral, archive work, like archaeology, deals with the past, heritage, genealogy, and therefore ultimately identity. This work involving the identity and the development strategy of African TV and radio stations is a CFI hallmark.

The project implemented in 2009-2010, occurs in a favourable and inspiring historical period, with media attention being turned to Africa in 2010 for the recent FIFA World Cup and the celebration of 50 years of independence in many African countries. Thus, an archive project seems particularly relevant in the current historical background in Africa. Although the recent history of the three countries involved is complex, it is now becoming possible to look back onto the past more easily. An undeniable interest in historical questions is merging, with increasingly lucid perspectives on the era of the founding fathers (Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere etc.) and the feeling in each country of becoming in control of one’s own history. The project accompanies the syndication movement that is typical of today's Africa, similar to experience in French Africa with the Network of Public Broadcasters in French-speaking Africa (RAPAF), and in southern Africa with the South African Broadcasting Association (SABA), namely through regional training.

By the end of 2010 CFI will have produced an English-language module covering the collection produced, showcasing it on its blog and on the Internet sites of Radio and TV stations, and an audio and video DVD box set.