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Analyzing Sustainability

One of the final projects of Preserving Digital Public Television is an assessment of sustainability for television archives in the public broadcasting system.

While our final report is still in process, we’ve found a number of issues related to sustainability that are not unique to moving images and television, but which seem likely to reflect much broader concerns over time. Among them:

  • Rights management. Television and moving images involve more rights holders than most other types of digital material, and the looming issue is the enormous cost of locating, negotiating and paying for huge collections of underlying rights materials incorporated into thousands of local and national productions. Even the Library of Congress  “identified copyright as a potentially serious impediment to the preservation of important digital collections and recognized that solving certain copyright issues was crucial to achieving long-term preservation of important digital content.”  
  • Economics.  The tendency in television archives is to see the collection primarily as a potential source of income.   Yet there is both monetary and non-monetary value to our collections, especially when measured against our mission of promoting education.  With no existing commitment within public broadcasting to fund preservation (at least right now,) we are scrutinizing our existing funding streams and operating models for potential new models of generating financial support.
  • Metadata. The possibilities for describing the contents of television broadcasts are still evolving, and questions remain about how best to do so.
  • Preservation quality files. Format complexity, lossy compression, and a  wide gap between preservation and access copies all raise quality concerns. Future migration of archived works will involve not only moving from tape to disk to other physical media, but also from one image format to another. The preference to preserve the highest quality image, the potential for loss, the relatively smaller size and costs of storing compressed files vs. uncompressed, and the need to make works available in many different viewing formats are difficult issues for archivists to resolve.
  • Scale. Even moderately sized collections of moving images require petabytes of storage.  Even so, we are projecting that over time, while costs for storing collections will continue to drop, long-term operating costs will rise, based on the need to maintain personnel, refresh the holdings, and keep the lights on.

In early 2009, we’ll be publishing our full report on sustainability. In the meantime, you can get a sense of what we are thinking from the resources page. And for more background, the Interim Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force is available for your reading pleasure.