We are about to lose one of our most valuable national treasures: The news archive.
Most experts recommend that tapes be converted to digital format within 5 to 10 years of being recorded and estimate the shelf life of magnetic tape at 15 years, perhaps longer if stored at a constant 21 degrees Celsius and 40% relative humidity level. Even if the archives are preserved under perfect conditions, over time the tapes stretch and lose their signal strength, eventually rendering the media useless. In conversations with customers over the past few months, I’ve come to realize just how “reel” this problem is. One of the largest networks of local news broadcasters informed me that they are scrambling to digitize archives en masse as they are literally about to lose content that was recorded in the 1960′s – 1980′s.
Think about the treasure trove that is contained in these archives: Day-by-day updates on every presidential election and key national issues, such as The Bay of Pigs; every speech and event in Martin Luther King’s career; the first moon walk; every key sporting event; etc…
So why the concern? It seems obvious that every TV station should be converting their archives to digital format. It typically comes down to cost and ROI. Let’s assume that a typical TV station produces 4 hours of news content per day. That’s 1,460 hours per year. Assuming that the archive consists of 35 years of tape, that’s 51,100 hours of content per station. Assuming that a local broadcast group consists of 20 stations, that’s 1 million hours of content. From what I’ve heard, the variable costs of converting analog tape to digital are approximately $20/hour. So this one group of broadcasters needs a $20.4 million budget just to convert the footage. If you assume that auto creation of metadata, through speech-to-text, natural language processing, and image recognition adds another $10/hour, the total cost is $30 million. This does not include the up-front costs involved in buying the hardware and software, shipping costs to send the tapes to/from the processing center, and any editorial effort involved in creating titles, descriptions, clips, etc…
The costs are significant, and justifying such a large budget in today’s economy and advertising market for “preservation-sake” is very difficult. Just as with every project in any corporation, there needs to be a profit motive to back-up the expense. Here are three opportunities for the archive that can yield ROI-positive business plans:
Create a media Wikipedia. Think about the value of a media-centric Wikipedia. A destination where I can come to watch every speech and event in Joe Biden’s 38-year political career or learn about such important topics as The Cold War or the Space Shuttle disasters. Through metadata analysis, it’s possible to organize a news archive by topic, entity, date, and geography, making it quite easy to dynamically discover and consume information. Add the social media element to the equation and you have a scalable way for creating editorial metadata, such as descriptions and story summaries that would be costly to otherwise create. At the very least, such an effort would have a halo-effect onto the media company that did this. However, set-up as a .org, this effort could potentially be underwritten through foundations and grants and, of course, there are advertising opportunities associated with this.
Create an education site. One of the most impressive archive efforts to date is NBCU’s iCue site where the archives are presented as an education tool, where anyone can learn about different events and topics, create “stacks” of clips that are interesting, and engage in any number of interactive games to test one’s knowledge of history. Efforts like this provide educational/subscription opportunities as well as sponsorship/advertising opportunities—what advertiser doesn’t want to get in front of 13 – 18 year olds?
Create a news site extension. Last, and perhaps the most obvious, is bolting the news archive onto the existing site. The rationale here is simple: More relevant and interesting content drive traffic, engagement, and advertising opportunities. If I could go to my local news site (NYC) and, while watching last night’s highlights from the Giants game, have the opportunity to view highlights over the past 20 years, I would surely spend more time on the site. Also, as we all know, more content provides more SEO opportunity and, hence, larger audience reach.
Content is the media industry’s most valuable asset. This applies not only to recent media, but to the archive as well—just look at all of the historic TV shows that I can watch on YouTube. In a market where traditional media is struggling to create unique and compelling online experiences and business models, the archive represent a differentiator that can jump-start audience building and monetization initiatives. Not only is it an important representation of world history that must be saved for “preservation-sake”, the archive represents a large, untapped online opportunity. Who will be first to realize its potential?
Stephen Baker is the Chief Revenue Officer of EveryZing, Inc, and has been in the search industry for over a decade. Stephen’s roles have included Vice President of AlltheWeb (now part of Yahoo!), General Manager of FAST (now part of Microsoft), and CEO of Search for Reed Business Information. The Video Search column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.