Preservation and Archiving of Video in a Dynamic Age of Content

In the rapidly evolving technological environment of streaming broadcasts and ubiquitous online access to content, identifying and following appropriate guidelines for the archiving of audio and video content (particularly for files deemed to be versions of record) may quickly become both time-consuming and labor-intensive. 

Documenting Sector Needs

To begin with, much depends upon the specific industry sector in which the content is produced. As one example, in the early days of the Web, journalists wrestled with the concept of what being a newspaper of record might mean in a digital environment. What represented the authoritative version of a story, if a story was being updated in real time and made immediately accessible to a global audience? Critical differences between the version of a news article published in print and the version delivered over the web might be introduced during editorial processes. Which of the two was to be preferred? Which would future historians designate as the most authoritative and therefore most to be relied upon in continuing analysis? 

Commissioned by the Library of Congress in 2011, the Center for Research Libraries produced a report, Preserving News in a Digital Environment which looked closely at the handling of versions of record of news content produced by four newspapers. The report very specifically looked at production workflows associated with print output and associated Web archives as well as the digital asset management systems in use. Further muddying the waters, the newspaper industry frequently relied on outsourcing of its archival versions of content. As noted in that report, “some newspapers outsource maintenance of these archived stories and features to archiving services like NewsBank,, and ProQuest. These services add value by formatting and indexing the stories and presenting them in searchable databases, which are normally hosted by the archiving service, but made to appear seamlessly connected to the newspaper site.” Because licensing agreements between providers and aggregators must be renewed regularly and because some content may be removed in order to comply with court rulings (such as the Tasini vs. The New York Times decision), such archives may have gaps in the coverage.

In 2019, The Rand Corporation published a lengthy report, News in a Digital Age: Comparing the Presentation of News Information Over Time and Across Media Platforms. The focus of that report was an examination of how news coverage had changed over a thirty-year period, specifically the years between 1987 and 2017. Their report studied the coverage appearing in print as well as the more fluid forms of broadcast, cable news, and online publication. By mining content collections from each sector, the Rand Corporation was able to demonstrate pattern shifts in how each sector re-styled their practices in developing and delivering the authoritative version of the news. While the Rand Corporation relied heavily on textual transcripts for its analysis, it is important to recognize that the audio and video files from which those transcripts were drawn represent authoritative versions and the contemporary historical record. 

Sophisticated media asset management systems are a current necessity but costly for the news industry. However, such systems are primarily in place to support the immediate content needs of broadcasters rather than serving as a long-term archiving or preservation tool.  


Enabling Access to and Ensuring Preservation of Non-textual Materials

In caring for news archives as well as for other audio and visual special collections, academic and cultural heritage institutions are stepping up their efforts. The National Film Preservation Foundation announced earlier this summer grants made to 35 different institutions for restoration and preservation of newsreels, silent-era films, culturally important home movies, avant-garde films, and endangered independent productions that fall under the radar of commercial preservation programs.

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive (VTNA) as well as the Internet Archive (IA) offer unique access options to their video collections for use by the research community and the public. VTNA holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of television news, Their research collection is searchable via the Web but those not from a sponsoring college or university are not yet permitted to view material. A sample transcript from NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley April 14, 1970 coverage of issues associated with the Apollo 13 mission may be viewed here as an example. 

The approach adopted by the Internet Archive organizes coverage according to specific event (September 11, the Iraq War, United States elections, etc.) and users are able to watch the brief clips over the Web.  The IA also spotlights local public access video content, such as that from Access Chautauqua County TV in upstate New York. As a further service, they currently partner with the Washington Post, supplying data for use with a Washington Post visualization tool. A credit line appears in the graphic published in the specific Post story, thereby supporting branded visibility for that archive. 

Indiana University may be pre-eminent in the scope of its Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative.  However, other collaborations (such as the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP)) enable shared preservation activities for at-risk materials. The New York Public Library, Harvard, Columbia and Princeton -- all members of NISO -- participate in ReCAP.  

In the context of preservation of digital state government information, as an example, in 2009 the Minnesota Historical Society issued a Digital Audio and Video White Paper, serving as something of a benchmark resource summarizing various components of such files and noting issues that might arise in working with them.  

In the United States, both the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress consistently offer guidelines and recommendations. Most recently in 2019, the Library of Congress released its updated 2018-2019 Recommended Formats Statement. The International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives in 2018 published an initial edition of their IASA-TC 06 Guidelines for the Preservation of Video Guidelines. According to that organization, an expanded edition of the guidelines should become available in 2019. The expanded edition will include a discussion of the preservation of digital-file-based video formats and the transfer of digitally encoded recordings in videotape form. 

A recently formed NISO Working Group has coalesced around the need for establishing guidelines associated with critical metadata associated with video and audio assets, incorporating existing standards rather than creating new ones, and covering the following categories of properties: 

  • Administrative metadata; 
  • Semantic metadata;
  • Technical metadata; 
  • Rights metadata; 
  • Accessibility metadata.

An Example of Shifting Technology, Behaviors and Business Models in a Larger Landscape

In the 2019 Ooyala Report on the State of the Broadcast Industry, research highlighted the increasing shift in viewing behavior across all age groups. The number of respondents who said they watched only broadcast television declined by 4 percent to 36 percent, whereas the percentage of those who primarily drew on a mix of video on demand and broadcast increased by roughly the same amount. The report jubilantly noted that “18 to 34-year-olds spent just 25% of their media consuming time with the television, compared to 58% on connected devices.” That said, while viewing on mobile devices is commonplace, the traditional television is still the most used device for consuming video content. Those televisions have larger screens and feature greater image resolution (4K, UHD) and media streaming devices are manufactured to deliver to that higher-grade.

In terms of technology, the Ooyala Report also notes the emergence of next-generation 5G networks and characterizes 5G as a game changer for the ability of the technology to “deliver wireless gigabit internet service, massive bandwidth, ridiculously low-latency video and five-9s reliability”  Providers appear to be well ahead of their original mid-2020 deadline for introduction to the market. Excitement centers around the potential 5G represents for live viewing of sports and the use of augmented reality.

The three models for sustaining broadcast activities are subscription, advertising and transactional. Over-The-Air (OTA) broadcasts have been sustained through cable subscription as well as by advertising. (Returning again to what we see in the news industry, Streaming Video on Demand (SVOD) fuels transactional revenue streams, but may be of less relevance to news broadcasts.)

The convenience of mobile access to news content encourages the collection of user data by the larger corporate media. Capturing that data fuels a more in-depth and detailed understanding of viewership demographics to be shared with advertisers. Apps for all of the major news outlets exist as the mechanism for collecting this much needed data. 

These shifts in technology, access, viewing behaviors and business models suggest that corporate media, while expressing optimism, may still feel uncertain about how best to sustain their businesses. They need brand visibility as well as an understanding of a viewer base that may not be watching on a schedule. The industry is focusing on ensuring an optimal viewing experience to retain that viewership but are equally aware of the need to protect digital assets in the streaming environment.  

Service enhancements of interest to these content companies (and many of these will sound familiar to a NISO audience) include  

  • Single Sign On and IP-Based Services
  • Video Indexing Services (Microsoft is working in this realm)
  • Voice Activated Services (38% of viewership turn off the device if they can’t find content immediately. Service providers hope to use voice recognition to allow systems to show individuals options of preferred content not previously seen.)
  • Personalization (BBC iPlayer expects to be able to use voice detection to determine appropriate viewing selections for a mix of ages in the room.)
  • Discovery tools (facial recognition, robust metadata, etc.)

The archiving of video encompasses content from more than just the North American broadcasting industry, but those working in academic settings may find that these changes suggest new possibilities for their operations.

Learn More

On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, NISO will be offering a 90-minute webinar devoted to the topic of preservation and archiving of digital media. The session will look at a variety of such collections and associated archiving initiatives focused on what is an increasingly at-risk set of materials.

Confirmed speakers for this event include Kira M. Sobers, Digital Media Coordinator, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Clifford B. Anderson, Associate University Librarian for Research and Learning, Vanderbilt University and Edward M. Corrado, Associate University, Naval Postgraduate School. Specifics as to what those speakers will be addressing appear on the NISO event page.