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Jason Whetstone (0:00):

Hi, Welcome to The Workflow Show, Chesapeake Systems’ media production technology and workflow therapy podcast. I’m your host, Jason Whetstone, Senior Workflow Engineer at CHESA. In today’s world where everything’s digital and digital is everything, we focus on speed, bandwidth, IOPS and latency. And we focus on storage density, simple tasks, like just viewing an image on a screen or a delicate dance of orchestrating the movements of ones and zeros between drives, file systems, routers and CPUs. The pool of engineers who understand and support these digital technologies is growing at an amazing rate. Rate prices come down and efficiency goes up. But not so long ago, things were a bit different. Our media technology was based on light passing through cellulose film. Eventually the light became digits, the film became polyester tape and the light was replaced by magnetic arrangement of particles on that tape. Or maybe the tape was an optical disc and the arrangement of particles was an arrangement of peaks and valleys carved by a laser. So, these physical formats of storing our video, audio and images, how long can we expect them to last in ideal conditions? And what about not so ideal conditions? They require devices and equipment to play the media contained on them. What does it take to maintain that equipment and who can maintain it? If these media storage formats can’t last forever, what’s it look like to preserve the content contained on these media? Or transition the stories and images contained in these older formats to more modern storage formats? And why should we care? Is the juice really worth the squeeze? Well, that’s what our discussion here today on episode 42 of The Workflow Show will focus on. Joining us in our podcast studio today in the basement of the CHESA church is Emily Halevy, National Accounts Manager with Preserve South. Hi Emily, thanks for joining us.

Emily Halevy (1:52):

Hi, thanks for having me.

Jason Whetstone (1:54):

And also, with us today is our own Louise Shideler, Business Development East, Chesapeake Systems. Hey, Louise.

Louise Shideler (2:00):

Pleasure to be back, Jason.

Jason Whetstone (2:01):

So, I’m just going to start by mentioning that the last time we had Louise on the workflow show her last name was different. So, you just want to show us some light on why that might be the case?

Louise Shideler (2:12):

Yes, I am off the market. I’m a married woman.

Jason Whetstone (2:16):

Wow. Congratulations.

Louise Shideler (2:17):

Thank you. Just passed our half-aversary as we say, six months.

Jason Whetstone (2:21):

Awesome. Very good. Very good. All right. So, let’s talk about media preservation. So, Emily, tell us your story. What is Preserve South?

Emily Halevy (2:30):

Right. Well, my individual story and the Preserve South story are both somewhat interesting. So, my story is I was a news producer for a syndicated news network. And during the recession, I had the audacity to get pregnant and was told that I was not going to be brought back after maternity leave.

Jason Whetstone (2:53):

And this is the 2008?

Emily Halevy (2:56):

This is 2009 at this point. Yeah. And so, a friend of mine who was an engineer at a company called Crawford, she said, “Look, I know this is not really what you’re interested in doing but we have, we’re hiring for migrators to digitize the World Wrestling Entertainment collection.” And so, at 36 weeks pregnant, I interviewed for a job and agreed to start working as a Migrator a few weeks after I had my daughter. After about three months of digitizing the WWE archives and learning about as much about wrestling as I wanted to learn…

Louise Shideler (3:37):

A new foray, I would imagine unless you were secretly a longtime fan?

Emily Halevy (3:41):

No, completely new. I moved into the sales department, and I was always kind of fascinated with what other collections might be out there that would be in need of preservation. So then flash forward to November of 2017. We were told by the owner of our company that they would be closing our division, which was rather heartbreaking for all of us and for a lot of our clients. But by January of 2018, we started Preserve South. So, Burt Jones of Back Porch Broadcast reached out to me and he decided he wanted to take on this industry and we started piecing it together and came up with the company name and brought our team back on. So now we’ve been able to bring back a good majority of our team and we’re able to keep providing the same services.

Jason Whetstone (4:39):

Sounds like a relatively new organization but some team members there that you’ve been working with for a while.

Emily Halevy (4:44):

Right. So, the majority of our team has at least a decade of experience doing this very particular work but also decades of experience working with tape formats over the years.

Louise Shideler (4:56):

I like to think of Preserve South as the Phoenix out of the ashes on the digitization front because I was talking to a few clients, mutual clients that they were looking at digitization projects and had proposals out and were looking at Crawford as potentially fulfilling that for them. And then we’re suddenly feeling a little on the lurch. And so, then I had already known Emily and we were chatting. So then when I could tell a few of them, “Hey, stay tuned.”

Emily Halevy (5:24):

Right and Phoenix was actually one of the names that we floated.

Jason Whetstone (5:29):

Wow. That’s really cool. So, what does, I mean, what does your facility look like? What formats do you work with? I got all kinds of questions.

Emily Halevy (5:38):

Right, so our facility I think our square footage is about 9000 square feet. We’re in basically a warehouse. Burt, who is our Chief Engineer, he owns the buildings so anytime we need a new room built, he brings his father-in-law over who happens to be a contractor and they put up new walls.

Louise Shideler (6:01):

No need to kick out other tenants.

Emily Halevy (6:03):

Right, exactly. Well, we did that at the beginning. We had to kick out the previous tenants that were in the building because, you know, Burt had Back Porch Broadcast but that was a relatively small footprint in the space that he had. So, he leased the space out to another company and so by January, we were like, “you guys have to go.” And now we take up the entire space. I mean, Back Porch still has a small footprint within the building but there are tapes everywhere.

Jason Whetstone (6:34):

I’m sure.

Emily Halevy (6:35):

So, we’ve got a large room dedicated to video migration where we work on a lot of the cassette-based media and, like one-inch tapes and pneumatic tapes and beta tapes, more of your like ubiquitous, you know, broadcast formats that you see often. And then we have a smaller space that’s dedicated to audio engineering where, primarily, we’re working on professional master, two-inch, 24-track, half-inch, four-track, two-track, lots of quarter-inch, and lots of audio cassettes but we can handle every, almost every audio format. And we’re looking at expanding that space as we take on new jobs. We just added a new room for quad machines. So, we have a dedicated space for two-inch quad. Then we have lots of warehouse for tape storage. And, of course, around the other side of the building, we have our film scanning room; we have our film prep room; we have our resolve suite where we do all film coloring.

Jason Whetstone (7:40):

Gotcha. So, the tape storage, it’s just like some warehouse in the middle of hot Atlanta, Georgia, right?

Emily Halevy (7:46):

Yeah, well, we’re actually just north we’re in Buford, Georgia. But yeah, I mean, from the street, you would never guess the kind of work that we’re doing there.

Jason Whetstone (7:54):

But you see what I’m getting at though. Like it’s probably like all climate-controlled and dust-free.

Emily Halevy (7:59):

Right. Yeah, we’ve got the little floor mats that you have to walk, you know, step on to go into the room.

Jason Whetstone (8:06):

Yeah, very good. So why is all that important? Like, why do you need all that, just for our listeners? I mean, we have an interesting base of listeners because, you know, varying technical knowledge, varying entry points into the industry. So, we have some new, you know, we have some people that have been in the industry for a long time that aren’t going to understand. You know, obviously, just we’re talking about this. Yes, we need to talk about it. But some of our listeners are probably like, “Why do we need to talk about this? We got all this digital stuff.”

Louise Shideler (8:31):

My tapes are just in my basement at home in a box in a moldy corner, right? That’s fine.

Emily Halevy (8:37):

Right. Well, when you look at the bulk of our collective history, from the 20th century, the majority of it or a large portion of it was recorded on tape or film. So, there’s that, that the unique aspect about these formats is that you need a third-party carrier in order to view what’s on the tape, right? It’s not like a photograph where you can pick it up and you can look at it; you need a device in order to play it back. And so, without this as a service, we’re going to lose all of that content, we’re going to lose all of that history. And so just from a broad viewpoint, this whole industry is extremely important in maintaining our collective history.

Jason Whetstone (9:22):

Right, and one of the things I sort of mentioned in the opener here was who can maintain these devices? I mean, I used to do a little bit of that working as a second engineer in Nashville, you know, just the whole process of aligning and Atari MTR 90. For those of you don’t know what that is, it’s a large, it’s about the size of a washing machine. It’s a 24-track, analog tape recorder, reel-to-reel, and aligning each one of those 24 tracks with the right tones and azimuth and all this bias and all these things that I don’t think anybody should have known. I’m just kidding. But yeah, it’s a skill. It’s a skill that I can’t imagine there are a lot of people that know how to, anymore, how to align these decks. I mean, I, you know, you probably be surprised, I’m sure there’s still a lot of facilities that are still using these formats because they’re still there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re still good, but the convenience and the speed at which we can get content out there with recording and say Pro Tools or logic or whatever. It’s just, you know, that’s what people are doing these days. So yeah, I imagine that you have a lot of these decks and these devices in your facility, and you probably have engineers to maintain them, right?

Emily Halevy (10:29):

Right. So, when you look at what this industry provides, we’re kind of up against this obsolescence issue and that comes in various different forms. One is the tape itself or the film itself degrading. The other is the availability of these decks that are in working order. And so not only do you have all of the devices that are going by the wayside, but you also have the talent, like you mentioned the talent to actually repair these things. And so, it’s a people issue; it’s an equipment issue; and it’s a tape issue, right? On the people side of things, we are extremely fortunate. So, our sister company is Back Porch Broadcast. Their entire business is built on maintaining these old decks and providing service and support for the decks and the encoders. And so, we’ve got five engineers in-house who that is their exclusive job to not only maintain our decks, but also provide that as a service to other organizations, including some of our competitors to help support this industry.

Jason Whetstone (11:37):

Gotcha. So, the equipment, the media, why is all this important? I mean, you know, I’ve got, like Louise said, I’ve got my tapes stored in a box somewhere, you know, I may or may not ever need them again. You know, I’ve moved on, like, why do I? Why should I care?

Emily Halevy (11:54):

Yeah, well, you know, I mean, if that answer is going to be a little different for every organization. We work with universities who that is their primary goal is preservation of this content, right? That’s one of their mission statements is preservation of the content. If you look at a lot of sports organizations, doing those highlight reels from years past is a big part of maintaining that fan base and energizing that fan base.

Louise Shideler (12:20):

Homecoming happens every year, right? They want those sizzle reels.

Emily Halevy (12:24):

Yeah, exactly. You look at corporate history, so you know, who can forget New Coke? And even that, so if you watch Stranger Things, if you happen to watch last season, New Coke made a feature in Stranger Things. So, I think it’s always important for people kind of at our core to reconnect with our past and understand where we came from. And for each organization that’s going to have a little bit of a different answer, maybe a more personal answer to them, even with your own home movies that might not be relevant to somebody down the street but it’s relevant to your past in your history and maintaining that. And these formats won’t last forever.

Jason Whetstone (13:07):

Right, right. As we mentioned, I mean, I think there’s a perception that anything that you want to watch, you can just find it on YouTube.

Louise Shideler (13:17):

Oh contraire.

Jason Whetstone (13:18):

Oh contraire. That content came from somewhere. It was probably, I mean, a lot of the- especially the older content that you’re looking for on YouTube, definitely came from some of these formats and was digitized and put into some sort of a, you know, content network or MAM, or something like that, to get it available to people so that you could find it on YouTube.

Louise Shideler (13:39):

Maybe I’m jumping ahead but very curious on if there are highlights, or what’s the coolest thing you’ve digitized or hidden treasures that you came across, which I would imagine might vary in your workforce of different cultural touchpoints and moments of what’s a historically meaningful moment or would touch off with different people.

Emily Halevy (13:58):

Yeah, in fact, knowing I was coming here today, I took a little survey of our migrators to find out what their favorites were. Many of our migrators said working on “Eyes on the Prize”, if you’re familiar with the “Eyes on the Prize” documentary. That collection was really important to them. Listening to the full interviews of like Stokely Carmichael and Alex Haley was really profound to them. Another big one: we’ve been working with Austin City Limits to digitize their collections. So, we started with the videotape collection and now we’re working on the audiotape. And I mean, you can’t really be 1976 Willie Nelson. Right. So, for me personally, one of my favorite collections is working with the University of Florida to digitize some of them, because I went to University of Florida, working on, with them, to digitize some of their collections and seeing some of that Gainesville history and things from back home. So that, you know, we’ve digitized oral histories from Holocaust survivors and, you know, all of these Civil Rights icons interviews with them. Well, it’s really different for everybody. It’s really also a privilege to work on so many of these collections. We’re working on the TCM collection. So, all of these classic movies that you’re, you know, your grandparents talked about.

Louise Shideler (15:16):

Oh, yeah, I definitely have friends like cult following level enthusiasm for TCM.

Emily Halevy (15:22):

Right, right. So you know, it hits on everybody in different spots but I think we’re all really grateful to be able to do this work and I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where there’s not some kind of unique, “Hey, look at this”, or “Hey, listen to this.”

Jason Whetstone (15:37):

Right. That’s awesome.

Louise Shideler (15:38):

Is it a stiff competition for who gets to digitize what? Like I’m just envisioning you have a giant whiteboard of “here’s all the projects” and like a, you know, run the gauntlet, throw some elbows, get your name up there first.

Emily Halevy (15:49)

Right. Well, not that but certainly when I’m looking at jobs, I think, “Oh, you know, Danica is gonna love this one.”

Jason Whetstone (15:58):

That’s great. What we’re really getting at here, I think, is just this whole discovery process of like, you don’t even really know what you have 100%. I mean, you probably have some idea of what’s on these, you know what’s on these tapes or on these reels. But yeah, I mean, like, once you get it, you know, get it going, it’s like, “Wow, there’s so much stuff here. What can we do with it?”

Louise Shideler (16:16):

And even thinking, a commonality with other guests and folks in industry that, here, the digitization piece is kind of an upstream part, different way. We’re talking about the shop from most of our folks who are working much more computer software servers but the common thread of the enthusiasm for the content. We’ve talked in the past the people who work in financial data or healthcare, medical records, they’re not getting super jazzed about, “Oh, this medical record that I organized in this database of all of these prescription medicines”, but, “Hey, I’m working on WWE”, civil rights pioneers these kinds of things that enthusiasm and interest in the content flows through our industry generally, which I think makes it a lot of fun.

Emily Halevy (17:01):

Yeah, it’s a really- it’s a fascinating industry to be a part of. And I think we’re all grateful to be able to continue working in this field.

Jason Whetstone (17:12):

Great. So, what are some of the- so we talked about some of the cool stuff. What were some of the like, really challenging things you’ve worked on? Even if it’s like, you know, degraded tape or, you know, talk a little bit about that.

Emily Halevy (17:23):

Yeah, so I’m always, let me put it this way. It has been a long time. It’s been a few years since I have been surprised by a format. I have been exposed to so many different formats at this point, that I can pretty much identify things on site. So, the latest one that really threw me was a client who had PXL tapes.

Jason Whetstone (17:51):

Okay, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of those.

Emily Halevy (17:53):

Right.

Louise Shideler (17:54):

Most people haven’t.

Emily Halevy (17:55):

I have not either until I did a little research and found that the PXL camera was made by Fisher-Price.

Jason Whetstone (18:02):

Are you kidding?

Emily Halevy (18:05):

No and it used standard audio cassettes like your classic Maxell 90-minute tapes to record video.

Louise Shideler (18:14):

Wait, what?

Emily Halevy (18:15):

Exactly.

Jason Whetstone (18:16):

Wow, that’s very Fisher-Price.

Louise Shideler (18:19)

Now I’m very intrigued. What organization? Was this a professional organization? I mean, who was recording on Fisher-Price? I don’t know. Maybe this was some skunkworks thing.

Emily Halevy (18:20):

It was in somebody’s private collection. I’ll put it that way. And essentially, because the tape is so small, you’re only recording about three minutes of video and the video quality is abysmal. It is terrible. And, you know, nobody’s coming up with new ideas on how to migrate it. So, you have to source the original camera. And then if you source it, you’re lucky if all the components in the cameras still work. So, then you’ve got the repair time to get it fixed. And then you’ve got to, you know, connect it to your encoders to get it to playback and record a signal off of it. So, we have not moved forward on it yet. I’m hoping that we do just for the experimental side of things because it’s a pretty cool story to tell. And so, this was just two weeks ago, and it’s been a few years since I’ve been surprised by a format.

Louise Shideler (19:26):

Maybe this is going to open the floodgates. Now all of these guys, home moviemakers, you know, the four-year-old savants that have been in hiding that have their whole troves at home. Now they’re gonna come to Preserve South.

Emily Halevy (19:39):

That’s right. That’s right. So yeah, I mean, there’s certainly those sorts of challenges that just the uniqueness of some of the tape formats and, you know, out their kind of formats that we come across. The bigger challenge that is more present with a lot of collections is the actual condition of the format.

Jason Whetstone (20:03):

Okay, so what can happen to these forms?

Louise Shideler (20:06):

And where are they coming from? Where are people storing these? Perhaps inadvisedly?

Emily Halevy (20:12):

Yeah. So again, that varies wildly. I mean, you know, sometimes I get a little heartbroken because you come across these really valuable, historically valuable collections and they’re in really poor storage conditions.

Jason Whetstone (20:29):

Like an old piano. That breaks my heart. You know, and it’s a musical instrument and you know. Yeah, sorry, continue.

Emily Halevy (20:37):

Well, my grandfather was a Steinway piano tuner.

Jason Whetstone (20:40)

Oh, really?

Emily Halevy (20:40):

I feel you on that.

Jason Whetstone (20:41):

Wow. Okay.

Emily Halevy (20:44):

And so, you know, sometimes we find content in basements of buildings. Sometimes it’s, you know, out in hallways; it’s in stadiums where shouldn’t be.

Jason Whetstone (20:57):

In stadiums?

Emily Halevy (20:59):

Well, you look at sports content, right? You look at athletic departments, you look at-

Jason Whetstone  (21:04):

And that’s the place that they have to store.

Emily Halevy (21:06):

That’s the only place they have to store.

Louise Shideler (21:08):

Where did a video folks get pushed? Into the basement down at the end.

Emily Halevy (21:12):

Right. In the attic. Right. So, sadly, oftentimes, that’s where content is being stored.

Jason Whetstone (21:21):

In climate-controlled environments, right? Like dry climate-controlled environments. I’m being sarcastic.

Emily Halevy (21:28):

Sure, right? Yeah, you only wish. So, you know, of course, we do work with a lot of universities and they do have all the climate control conditions. The goal would be to get them all into a setting where they are cared for.

Jason Whetstone (21:42):

Sure.

Emily Halevy (21:43):

But as we’ve discussed, that’s not often the case.

Jason Whetstone (21:46):

And again, what do you have there? You know, what do you have in that collection? Does anybody know?

Emily Halevy (21:51):

Right, right. Exactly. Oftentimes, they don’t. It’s a whole discovery. Digitization is a discovery phase.

Louise Shideler (21:58):

Yeah, which ties into, “what do we have?”, “what is it worth?” Connected to what I think we’re going to get to talking about, funding, and what is the value of base and getting funds to actually do the digitization. And I know a lot of places have climate-controlled vaults and things, but often, there’s a charge for that. Okay, so if athletics, you want to store your archive here, it’s this much for the access to our climate control. And if there’s not a sense of what’s on there, eh, okay, we’re going to cut that from the budget. That doesn’t make sense for spending our money, unfortunately.

Emily Halevy (22:34):

Yeah, having an internal advocate who understands the value of the collection and the history is really important to moving these projects forward.

Jason Whetstone (22:42):

This is something we talk about on the show a lot is the stakeholder. Having that person that’s, sort of, that’s their baby and the organization is taking care of that content.

Emily Halevy (22:51):

Right, exactly. But so, in terms of condition, even when the tapes or films are stored in good condition, they’re still subject to degradation, right? So, with magnetic tape, there’s something called sticky shadd. And that happens sometimes just because of the formula of the tape, not necessarily because of how it was stored.

Jason Whetstone (23:12):

So that’s particles shedding off of the tape as they age?

Emily Halevy (23:16):

Yeah. So, with magnetic tape is a plastic backing with magnetic oxide that has the signal on it. And if you don’t mitigate it before you play it back, the oxide literally sheds off the tape. And I can tell you from experience watching that is, it’s very hard to watch.

Jason Whetstone (23:35):

I can imagine. I can imagine.

Emily Halevy (23:37):

And so, what we do to mitigate sticky shadd or binder hydrolysis, if you want to get particular, we actually use professional-grade food dehydrators and so we have an entire wall of food dehydrators in our warehouse that we put tape. And depending on how bad the sticky shadd is or how old the tape is or what sort of tape it is because, you know, we’ve gotten pretty good at identifying particular formulations and how subject they are to sticky shadd, we’ll bake them anywhere from eight hours to sometimes two or three weeks. And that process leeches the moisture out and rebind the oxide to the plastic backing.

Jason Whetstone (24:24):

So, this is a process that happens in dry heat, right?

Emily Halevy (24:28):

In dry heat.

Jason Whetstone (24:29):

Gotcha. Okay, so what kind of, just curious, what kind of temperatures are we looking at? Like hundreds, something pretty low? I would imagine.

Emily Halevy (24:36):

Typically, like 120.

Jason Whetstone (24:38):

Okay, very cool.

Emily Halevy (24:40):

Yeah. So, there’s that. Then, of course, if you have your tapes or film stored in poor conditions, then you may be subject to other elements like mold. And that is something that we’re seeing way more often than we used to. Mold can be remediated but, you know, again, you’re just adding another layer of cost to getting this content to playback. Stabilization, getting these assets into a location where there is some sort of climate control or safe environment where they can be stored is really important.

Jason Whetstone (25:14):

Gotcha. Gotcha. Okay. So, again, storing the formats is one thing, just making sure they’re safe and stored in ideal conditions, at least as close to ideal conditions as we can get. But what about, you know, let’s get into that sort of topic of what do we have? What’s on this media? Should we digitize it? Like what’s the, you know? What does that look like?

Emily Halevy (25:35):

So, that’s a big question for a lot of people. “Should we digitize it? Is there a way that I can look at it before I digitize it to know if I want to digitize it?” And unfortunately, I have to tell a lot of people, “You know, the whole process that we have to go through in order to get these tapes to playback for me to tell you whether or not you should digitize it.”

Louise Shideler (25:53):

Congratulations, it’s done.

Jason Whetstone (25:55):

You might as well just do it.

Emily Halevy (25:56):

Just do it. And then you can decide if it’s valuable enough to keep or not. You know, and everybody’s different. Again, every organization has a different motivation, different needs. I always kind of put it out there that we don’t really know what’s going to be valuable in 50 years. We don’t know what’s going to be valuable in 100 years. And so, if there’s any question about should you keep it, I usually err on, keep it, especially if storage, data storage is not an issue.

Jason Whetstone (26:31):

It doesn’t seem to be here in 2019. We keep hearing about how much data there is out there and how much storage there is out there. So, you know, it doesn’t seem to be a huge issue. You know, the whole old moniker of tape is cheap. I think drives are cheaper, the cloud is cheap, you know, and in relation to like, what it costs to say reshoot something, or do a reenactment of something that you think happened or something like that, you know?

Louise Shideler (26:59):

Yeah, even pro-con of, “is it worth keeping?” The, “what happens if you don’t keep it and then you want it later?” And the cost of storing it weighed against the potential of wanting that in the future is generally a pretty easy calculus.

Jason Whetstone (27:16):

Right.

Emily Halevy (27:16):

Right. And, you know, you can’t always tell a book by its cover, right? It’s very true with tapes and film. We come across often tapes that have been mislabeled. You know, you have to be able to see the content in order to make those determinations. Or oftentimes, we had one client who had a tape labeled as a cooking show, and upon digitization, we realized it was a long-lost interview that they thought that they actually lost. And it turned out it was an interview between Kurosawa, Coppola, and George Lucas. That was, you know, this priceless interview that you can’t recreate. And they thought they’d lost it 20 years ago.

Louise Shideler (27:57)

Turn Preserve South saved the day.

Emily Halevy (28:00):

Turns out, it was just mislabeled.

Jason Whetstone (28:01):

And that’s actually a really amazing story. When you think about it, I mean, you have this gem that you didn’t even know you had, and you assumed it was lost. You know, can you imagine how those folks felt when they realized what they had?

Emily Halevy (28:13):

Oh, right. right, exactly. Yeah, there was much rejoicing,

Jason Whetstone (28:16):

I’m sure. So that sort of return on investment, right, that’s kind of hard to qualify, because it’s a little bit of a risk sometimes. Sometimes we know, we know what we have. And we know, you know, okay, we want to, you know, we want to make this available to a larger audience but sometimes it’s a little bit of a risk. You’ve got the chance of mislabeling, you’ve got the chance that this, you know, you just won’t be able to get to what’s on the on these old media. So, speak to that a little bit. Like the whole risk of the return on investment, and how do we sell that to within our organization?

Emily Halevy (28:48)

Yeah, I mean, that’s a big- it’s a big question and it’s a big struggle for a lot of organizations. Again, you know, universities, that’s their directive. Their directive is to preserve this content. So, they already have kind of built-in buy-in where ROI is not necessarily a factor for them. But then you have other organizations, production companies, corporations, sports agencies, where they have to really put some numbers around preserving this content. So, the ROI can come in a lot of different forms. We have one client who relaunched a network. So, they took all of this old content and they now have a new television channel. We have other clients who do OTT, so over-the-top television making this content available. So not only is preservation a key component of a lot of this but also access is a key component of a lot of this and that’s where a lot of the ROI comes in is access. So, providing access to this content so that they can sell it. The questions of how that gets done, that varies within a lot of organizations.

Louise Shideler (29:57):

Yeah. So just on that and thinking about OTT and kind of a double value in legacy content of the nostalgia factor of, “Hey, from the vault things that you haven’t seen since your childhood, or you were thought were lost.” Now you can see that appeal factor as well as we see all these reports all the time about Netflix and Apple and how many billions of dollars companies are spending to produce original content. You compare that to the cost of digitization? I’m guessing you can do a digitization project for under a billion dollars.

Emily Halevy (30:29):

Yeah, although I’ll take your billion dollars.

Louise Shideler (30:33):

So then weighing the relative cost of net-new production versus digitizing something that already exists, that’s a bargain to fill up that content library.

Emily Halevy (30:42):

Right, exactly. And so, if you have a network you have 24/7 time to fill, archival contents a great way to do that. If you have, you know, some clients have a vault and you pay for special access to that vault to see that historical content. The other avenue that we’re seeing a lot more of is documentary production. So, we are getting a slew of requests for archival content to be digitized and incorporated into documentaries, which is also really fun. It’s really fun to see producers use this content and tell stories around the content and make that content relevant to today.

Jason Whetstone (31:22):

So how did those opportunities come to you? Do you have a production company or producer come to you with like, “Here’s all the stuff we have on this particular person or whatever that we’re doing a doc on.”

Emily Halevy (31:31):

Yeah, typically what happens is we have a relationship with an institution or organization that holds the content and that organization feels comfortable with us digitizing that content. And so, they’ll make the introductions to the producer. And from there, we’ll put an estimate together and work with them to get the content digitized. But usually, the entry way is through the organization itself, who owns that content and wants to send it to someone they feel comfortable using

Jason Whetstone (31:59):

Okay. So that’s actually that leads to a point I wanted to sort of talk on, which was the cost of something like this. I mean, we obviously don’t want to get too deep into, you know, what’s it going to cost? Because it’s going to vary, like you’ve mentioned before, with every other aspect of this is really going to vary from client-to-client and project-to-project. But it sounds like this doesn’t have to be a huge monumental thing. You can start with something that’s really, really important to you, or at least, you know, “Hey, we’ve got these reels. We think there’s some really good stuff on here, some really important stuff on here. Let’s do those first and see how it goes.” Maybe generate a little bit of excitement within the organization around it.

Emily Halevy (32:36):

Yeah, I always advocate for starting somewhere. You know, we hear that term analys-, “paralysis by analysis”. It is a very real thing.

Jason Whetstone (32:46)

This one. Me, right here. Yeah, that’s me.

Emily Halevy (32:49):

And so, I always say, “Let’s just start with one reel of film. Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start with a small batch. Let’s start with a few tapes.”

Louise Shideler (33:00):

And most organizations have some sense. Okay, if their archive is an entire room, they don’t know 90% of that, but they probably know this one box, man. The stuff in there. So that’s what we really need to start with that one box.

Jason Whetstone (33:16):

I mean, you know, let’s just throw like a range out there. What’s what does a small project look like for Preserve South, like something like that? Is it 10 grand? Is it something?

Emily Halevy (33:26):

Oh, it’s much smaller. Right. Yeah, I mean, to start a pilot project or something like that, it’s typically in the, you know, $200 to $300, maybe $1,000 range. Yeah, you know, everybody’s pilot project is a little bit different or, but, you know, we do work a lot with people who are just getting started and it’s one reel of film that’s maybe going to cost them $250, right?

Louise Shideler (33:54):

And even to the point, you work with personal collections, right? Individuals can come to you with their home movie collection of here’s Christmas Day from every year of our kids’ childhood. So, this is at an accessible price point for individuals.

Emily Halevy (34:08):

Right. I mean, it can get a little bit heavy for individuals. But again, what value and a lot of that is, you know, an intrinsic value, what value are you placing on that content? We actually, going back to the meaningful content that we’ve digitized, we worked with a person who had their own film collection. It was a film collection from of what they shot from Vietnam. And this person happened to be in the same unit as my Dad. And so, when we were going through all the color correction, I sat down and watched all of it, and sure enough, my Dad was in the footage.

Jason Whetstone (34:45

Wow. That’s Amazing.

Emily Halevy (34:47):

And I could, I was only a quick shot of the back of his head, but I was like, “There’s my Dad.”

Jason Whetstone (34:52):

That’s amazing.

Emily Halevy (34:53):

Yeah, yeah. So, we do and, you know, the home movie collections are really, they’re obviously very personal to a lot of people but on a broader scale, these are collections that kind of form our societal history, right? So, you can learn a lot from home movie collections that you wouldn’t necessarily learn from the Coca Cola archives, right? You get to see what people were wearing back in the 60s, you get to see what was important to them. Film, back then, was expensive. So, they were shooting what was valuable and important, you know? Not like today where you pick up your phone and you’re taking pictures of what you ate, you know, what your meal was, or any random stuff that you see on the street. They were all very well kind of thought out.

Jason Whetstone (35:42):

Yeah, cause they had to be, right? They didn’t have a phone with gigabytes of storage, you know. We walk around with these things that we take for granted all the time. But yeah, I mean, when these formats were around, and they were actually like being used, you know, in the mainstream, or at least by the professionals, tape wasn’t cheap then; the devices weren’t cheap. So, you had to be very judicious about what kinds of content you were capturing.

Emily Halevy (36:06):

Right. Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, sadly, in the 90s and odds there was this phase of film to DVD. And now we’re seeing that optical discs, like DVD, are facing more obsolescence issues than the film itself.

Jason Whetstone (36:26):

Why do you think that is? because that’s, you know, that’s something I think when these formats became popular when the disc sort of optical disc formats became popular CDs, DVDs, that was like the whole point was like, “Oh, the last for hundreds of years.”

Louise Shideler (36:39):

Oh, I distinctly remember in my childhood, and we purchased our first CD player and my Dad talking about CDs and saying, “They’re basically indestructible. The only thing that can happen is they can melt, like don’t stick it in the oven.” I distinctly remember this it was hailed as this, “Oh, you know, nothing can harm these discs.”

Jason Whetstone (36:59):

We had a LaserDisc player, which are like, you know, the CDs that are the size of vinyl records.

Emily Halevy (37:04):

Right. Well, I’ll put it this way: it was really good marketing on behalf of the optical disc makers and that marketing persists today.

Louise Shideler (37:13):

So, consider this your PSA. Any amount of collection at home and CDs and DVDs.

Emily Halevy (37:20):

Yeah, so I worry that a lot of folks probably threw out their film now that it was on this handy dandy DVD. And oh, by the way, the quality is also much poorer.

Jason Whetstone (37:31):

Yeah, pretty awful because of the compression, right?

Emily Halevy (37:33):

Right. It’s five megabits per second where film you know, you can bump 16-millimeter film up to 4K if you want and still looks decent.

Jason Whetstone (37:44):

Let’s just put that five megabits per second into perspective. I mean, that’s a lot of times in a media asset management platform. That is a decent rate for web streaming proxies, right? So, this is just the content that you’re able to view so you can determine whether you want to maybe restore something from an archive. It’s, you know, it’s basically just what you look at, you know, on your screen.

Louise Shideler (38:07):

Yeah, nowhere near the native capture what people are doing craft editing in. Very lightweight.

Emily Halevy (38:14):

It is for access and that’s it.

Jason Whetstone (38:17):

So mainly, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re talking about with these DVDs, for example, you’re talking about some of the devices that shot directly to a DVD and not necessarily like DVDs that you can buy at Blockbuster back in the day or rent at Blockbuster back in the day, right? You’re trying to preserve original content.

Emily Halevy (38:35):

Right. Yeah. And that goes again into a whole other layer of decision making, right, is the content original. We work with clients who have their own original content, so we’re not looking at preserving your DVD collection. It’s time that you get onto Netflix. I actually I just passed by a Blockbuster video last week and I was like, “Oh wow! I needed to stop and a picture of this. It’s like the last remaining building in the contiguous United States!” We kind of touched on it there: the file type decision-making process is another area where we get a lot of paralysis by analysis.

Jason Whetstone (39:19):

Okay, so what does that mean, exactly?

Emily Halevy (39:22):

So typically, when I’m consulting with clients, I look at, what are their motivations behind digitizing this content? Is it for preservation? Is it for repurposing? Is it for access? And typically, the needs fall into all three categories?

Jason Whetstone (39:38):

Right. A little bit of this, a little bit of that,

Emily Halevy (39:40):

Right. And so, there are different file types for each different layer of use case.

Jason Whetstone (39:48):

When you say, “file types”, you talking about, like sort of digital storage formats? So, when you capture the file, what kind of container we’re going to start and what codec are we going to use?

Emily Halevy (39:57):

That’s exactly right, that’s exactly right. So, on the preservation side, you know, when it comes to film, we’re looking at anything from DPX files to, you know, 2K ProRes files to FFP1 files, which is a new format that’s popped up. On the video side, the Library of Congress has been backing lossless motion JPEG-2000 as their standard format, but then you also have uncompressed formats. And you have, again, FFP1, which is popping up a lot. And all of those have the characteristic of being a high bitrate file. So essentially, what you would see when you’re playing back the film is what you would see in the file. You’re getting as much information out of that format as you possibly can to preserve the content in its highest form possible. They all do come with high data rates. So, you know, we’ve estimated some collections that, once digitized would come out to be, you know, a petabyte and a half of data once it’s complete. So that sort of decision making of, “How can we digitize this content so that downstream we can maintain it?” is a big question.

Louise Shideler (41:15):

Sounds definitely like a right sizing thing which we talk about dealing with clients. And even again, workflow popped in my head that it ultimately does come down to workflow and what is your intended use for this? And, okay, the Library of Congress is using this format, which is great because their mandate is to maintain the archives with till the end of the Republic and 4,000 years after or something like that.

Emily Halevy (41:39):

Like 50 years or something like that?

Louise Shideler (41:40):

Yeah, so there’s definitely the end of the Republic is in there. So, they are definitely looking long-term, multi-generational, this needs to last which is fantastic. However, comma, if you’re a corporation, home movie collection, a nonprofit, yes, your history is also important but you’re probably not on the level of the Republic. So, you probably don’t have the funding. So, let’s make prudent choices where you mentioned three or four options that are all high bit rate, very high-quality preservation level will get the job done.

Emily Halevy (42:16):

Right, right. And when thinking about these projects, you really have to think about, I mean, think about your own photograph collection at home, right? Is it in any sort of order? Do you know what you have? How do you have it stored?

Louise Shideler (42:31):

Yes, kinda?

Emily Halevy (42:33):

Or is it really just a mess? So, you have to think about it from an organizational perspective of how can I maintain this over time? What are the things I can put into place to help maintain this collection over time? And will those organizational methods and storage methods persist when I’m not there anymore to take care of this collection.

Louise Shideler (42:56):

And even maintaining over time, funding over time as well. This is a very common thing we talked about with customers and archive, yes is a great one, just the word “archive”. And if people think, “Oh, I’m going to write a check once. I’ve taken care of archive. Check it off the list.” No, archive is an ongoing process. And when I talk with folks and talking about getting funding and okay, if you’re fighting tooth and nail for a one-time budget item, this needs to be a permanent line in your budget for maintaining, expanding, preserving the archive. If you don’t have larger buy-in organizationally for the value of this thing called “the archive” and what it is, that’s not good.

Emily Halevy (43:39):

Underscore, underscore, exclamation point. I mean, I cannot express enough that- there’s also this misunderstanding that migrating this content is a one-time thing. You have to look at migration as being a routine process. So, we’re putting these files on to what? We’re putting them onto LTO tape; we’re putting them onto hard drives; we’re putting them on, you know, you’re ultimately putting them onto your servers. Where are you putting this content? And how are you making sure that that content, let’s say you go with LTO tape, is continually being migrated so that you can maintain control over that content. And there are costs associated with it. Again, if you’re creating a petabyte and a half of data from your project, I don’t care how cheap storage is, there’s going to be a big dollar figure attached to that on a monthly basis.

Jason Whetstone (44:33):

Sure. So that’s really, yeah, that’s really what we’re speaking to here. I think is just, you know, it isn’t a line item for one project. You know, what does it take to maintain, you know, one and a half or several petabytes of LTO tape? Eventually, that is tape. What are we talking about here? We’re talking about preserving tape. So that is tape, right? It’s a different format but it is tape and it has all the same problems that tape comes with. So then, what, we’re migrating to another LTO format, another generation of LTO.

Louise Shideler (45:02):

I always like to go back to the house analogy, that when you buy a house, it’s an investment. When you close and you sign the check and everything, you don’t not spend another dollar on your house, right? My husband and I bought a house this year, we immediately started a maintenance fund and an upgrades fund. We’re going to need a new roof. We’re probably going to want to paint in the future. It’s the same thing with these collections. It’s not one time, okay, we’re never spending another dollar on it; there’s upkeep as well as improvements.

Jason Whetstone (45:31):

And my personal view is that I think that we, as a society, would do well to adopt this method of thinking to other areas of our lives.

Emily Halevy (45:39):

Absolutely.

Jason Whetstone (45:41):

To many areas of our lives. In fact, like say, I don’t know infrastructure. We don’t build the roads once; we have to maintain them.

Emily Halevy (45:47):

That’s right, or healthcare.

Jason Whetstone (45:49):

Sure, sure. But we’re not going to get political. So, this is great.

Louise Shideler (45:54):

It all ties together.

Jason Whetstone (45:54):

It does. That’s the important- that’s the important point, I think, I’m trying to make here is that it really does all tie together.

Emily Halevy (46:00):

Yeah, and I often, especially when I’m talking to an archivist or somebody who, you know, is kind of has been tasked with these projects, I often say, “You need to bring in IT into this conversation because you are about to dump however many terabytes of data onto them. Not only do they need to know to expect it, but they need to understand what this content is and how best- they may have ideas about how best to preserve it. They may have their own ideas of where to put it on the server or what needs to happen to it.”

Jason Whetstone (46:39):

Or the security implications of having that content within your network.

Louise Shideler (46:43):

Especially since physical security, if this has all been in a vault, in one room, is pretty straightforward. Put a lock on the door who has you know, two people have keys to that lock. Usually, it’s not the standard security people. It’s like the closet off wherever. Now suddenly these are on storage servers that are networked. There’s a whole other, which has great advantages, as we’ve talked about, access for the content also comes with a whole range of ripple effects in security around that.

Jason Whetstone (47:13):

So now that that content is digital, and it’s part of your digital collection, let’s say maybe it’s in your MAM, maybe it’s in your cloud or your tape archive there safely, what, you know, what does it look like to maintain that and keep that going? How do we back that up and make sure that’s safe? Because it becomes, you know, that’s your investment now. It’s that digital content. So, it’s just like any other digital content that you would produce.

Emily Halevy (47:38):

Right, right. And having a backup, I mean, that component of it is so important, because hard drives sometimes don’t spin up. Servers sometimes fail

Louise Shideler (47:49):

Two is one and one is none.

Emily Halevy (47:51):

Right. And then tapes, you’re facing similar issues. You know, I mean, I don’t want to get too out there but there is fear about solar flares, you know.

Louise Shideler (48:03):

Not entirely unfounded.

Emily Halevy (48:05):

Right. Exactly. And so, right. So, you got to have plans for backup. You’ve got to have this content in multiple places, in different locations. My advice typically is at least two different types of media, whether that’s the cloud and something local, or tape and drives, you know, servers and backup tape. And then if you can do the geographical separation, that’s another huge component so that if there’s a hurricane, right, in your location, how is your archive going to be protected from the elements?

Jason Whetstone (48:50):

Right. And also, I just, I mean, I think we should- it is worth putting a finer point on getting IT involved as early as possible or IS or whatever your technology vision as, especially, if you’re talking about an organization where media and media production is not like your bread and butter because in those situations, dealing with a petabyte and a half of data, that may be more data than your IT is currently managing at the moment. So, yeah, get them involved early.

Emily Halevy (49:20):

Right. And a lot of people, a lot of organizations, I should say, they’re not used to this type of data. They are used to a bunch of Word documents and Excel documents that have, all together, a very small footprint. These data footprints are very large and they’re cumbersome files, sometimes, and they need a level of expertise that is a little bit different from just storing, you know, corporate documents.

Louise Shideler (49:50):

Yeah, and most IT departments, worth their salt, will readily recognize this and I say, multiple times a week. This is why Chesapeake Systems exists- that we are taking that burden off of IT. IT has plenty to do with their regular tasks.

Jason Whetstone (50:07):

Or working with them to make sure you get what you need.

Louise Shideler (50:09):

Don’t make them pivot away from their core skill set and learn this fringe when the fringe is all that CHESA does and what we focus on and partnering with IT as being an extension and helping them out with this, sometimes pesky content.

Jason Whetstone (50:25):

We will actually be talking about this very subject in a future episode of The Workflow Show, so stay tuned for that. The subject will be, sort of, working within your organization, with your IT department and trying to keep that relationship good because we want that relationship to be good, right? So, Emily, how much time do we have? These formats are getting older and degrading day-by-day like, what?

Louise Shideler (50:50):

How fast is the clock ticking?

Emily Halevy (50:51):

Time is running out. Yeah, it kind of varies by format, but the going thought is we have another good 10 years to get this content.

Jason Whetstone (51:02):

That’s not a lot of time.

Emily Halevy (51:03):

It’s not a lot of time, the way I like to think of it is if you look at a bell curve, right now we’re kind of at the top of that bell curve when it comes to the quality, the availability of the formats and the tape decks and the engineers and the cost to get it done. We’re at a point where it’s relatively inexpensive and all of these materials are still available for us to be able to playback the content. But we are on the downturn of that, right. So, we are looking at, again, engineers dying off. I mean, I hate to put it that bluntly, but everybody gets older and finding these VTR engineers and service engineers, you know, they’re-

Louise Shideler (51:48):

It’s a graying workforce as you had previously said.

Emily Halevy (51:51):

Exactly, exactly. The decks are harder and harder to find and then repairing those decks and finding the materials to keep them up and running is harder and harder to find. And then you, again, you have the issue of the actual formats themselves deteriorating. So, by all estimates, we look at another decade of this being available to digitize, but it’s not going to get any cheaper than it is today.

Jason Whetstone (52:20):

Okay, good point. So, if this is something you’re thinking about, maybe something, you know, you need to wait for a budget for, but you should be thinking about that now.

Emily Halevy (52:29):

If you are not, if this is not on your radar, you need to get it on your radar. If this is something that’s on your radar and you haven’t had any kind of support and buy in, you need to start working on those, you need to start building your case to get it done. You need to find the advocates within your organization who are going to champion these projects.

Louise Shideler (52:52):

Yeah, even thinking lead times, we talk about that a lot of the client is always like, “Okay, from order approval, then how soon can I be using it?” Which, yes, we can talk about those but then I often say, “Before the PO, there’s an extensive process of getting many ducks in a row, only a small part of which is speccing out exactly what you need to buy.” And so similar thing of speccing out the exact formats and how you’re going to do it of, even when you’re talking about, organizationally, deciding what’s valuable. How are you going to transport this? All decisions on that side. Who are the stakeholders? Who cares about this?

Emily Halevy (53:32):

Right, right. Yeah. And so, there is there is some lead time, you know, we are actively running multiple projects all the time. And so, you may be ready to move on your project, but we won’t be able to get it in to the queue for a couple months. And so, there is a window of time that you have to use to plan these projects out. Make sure you have budget allocations, make sure that you’re ready to receive the content when it’s done. Making sure, you know, we didn’t talk about metadata. That’s a whole other question around.

Jason Whetstone (54:02):

How did we not talk about metadata, Louise?

Louise Shideler (54:05):

Oh man. We have failed, Jason.

Jason Whetstone (54:08):

We have failed. So, what about that? Like, what’s the metadata like? Yeah, so about metadata.

Emily Halevy (54:13):

So now you have a bunch of files digitized. Great. How are you going to sort through thousands of files and figure out what’s what?

Jason Whetstone (54:22):

Well you’re just going to do that for us, right?

Louise Shideler (54:25):

Are you really in a better position? Okay. All of your tapes were in this closet somewhere. Now, there’s a hard drive sitting on your desk.

Emily Halevy (54:32):

Yeah. So metadata, the metadata component, the search and find component of this is also really important and something that you need to figure out how to budget in and what the needs are around your metadata, you know, especially when it comes to descriptive metadata. Is it an audio collection? Can you get transcripts made from your audio collection? There’s a lot of really great automated tools out now that are improving rapidly when it comes to transcription but even like facial recognition and object recognition, what sort of details are you wanting to get out of these collections that would be helpful in your curation of this content?

Louise Shideler (55:13):

Also, a huge area to be wary of the paralysis by analysis.

Jason Whetstone (55:18):

Yeah, sure. Well, that we find to be I would say we tend to advise, especially our MAM clients, that, you know, it’s better to just get started and get started with the metadata that you already know and not go too crazy with it. And then, you know, you can always refine and make changes and make it better. But yeah, that is a great point.

Emily Halevy (55:40):

Start where you are.

Jason Whetstone (55:41):

Right. Start where you are. And what do you see? So, you talk about, you know, some of these- we just talked about AI and machine learning on, you know, on a previous episode. So, you know, what do you see your clients doing with this content like in that respect? You see them going right to say like facial recognition and speech-to-text transcription and things like that? Like to talk to you, do you consult with your clients about that kind of stuff?

Emily Halevy (56:08):

I do. To some extent, this is also just fun. That side of the business is just fun. The technology part of that is fun, and also a little bit scary. But so, on the video side, you know, again, there are costs associated. And so, we’re not really seeing a lot of clients go down the rabbit hole of the object or facial recognition, yet I see that coming. What I do see are a lot of other open source tools that are being used or university-built tools like OHMS that are being used to provide transcripts, for, say, oral histories, and those are being used often.

Jason Whetstone (56:51):

Yeah, I would think that, at the very least, the transcript, the sort of speech-to-text transcript would be very useful to have for some of those content. For any content, really, but especially this where, you know, we may have hours and hours and hours of content that we’ve just never seen before. We know we have it, but we’ve never seen it or heard it or whatever before. So yeah, I imagined that would be.

Emily Halevy (57:12):

Yeah, and there are a lot, there’s a lot of work being done around dialects and really starting to dial in some of those accents and different languages and getting the tools to work with what your collection is. So, you know, a collection, that’s Appalachian oral histories will not be the same, you’re not going to get the same results necessarily from your standard transcription, then you would from a collection of from New York? Your percentage of accuracy is going to be quite different. Understanding what some of the terms are, you know, that are unique to those languages are needed. And so, I think, the tools that are out there are getting better at dialing in some of the unique aspects of different dialects.

Jason Whetstone (58:03):

Sure and, I mean, once we have this content and a platform, like a media asset management platform, you know, we can really kind of do with it anything that we need to do with it. So, you we just talked about metadata. What about workflows or about automation, automated workflows, transcoding delivery, those kinds of things? So obviously, we see that, you know, we talked about these kinds of workflows all the time on the show here, and, you know, obviously, we can see why we would want to do that. There’s, there’s tons of value there.

Emily Halevy (58:30):

Right. And then, you know, if you want to get the ROI, you have to know what you have.

Jason Whetstone (58:34):

Yeah, exactly. All right. So, with that, I would like to wrap our episode. Emily Halevy, National Accounts Manager for Preserve South. Thank you for your time today. Emily,

Emily Halevy (58:43):

Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.

Jason Whetstone (58:45):

Yes, it was. And I’d also like to thank my co-worker, Louise Shideler, Business Development East for CHESA. Thanks, Louise.

Louise Shideler (58:51):

You’re quite welcome, Jason.

Jason Whetstone (58:53)

And thank you, our listeners, so much for listening to The Workflow Show and we really hope you like listening to the podcast as much as we enjoy creating it. If you have any questions or concerns or anecdotes or stories about media asset management or media preservation or media storage infrastructure, integrations, any of the aforementioned technologies, we would love to hear from you. So, email us at workflowshow@chesa.com. And as always, you can visit our website anytime, chesa.com. Thanks for listening. I’m Jason Whetstone.

 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai