Analyzing Sustainability

December 23rd, 2008

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 project page. And for more background, the Interim Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force is available for your reading pleasure.

Web Crawl Update

December 19th, 2008

As part of our digital preservation initiative, we have saved copies of the majority of websites related to the public television system in 2007 - more than 300 websites of stations, program productions, and related organizations. 

Working with the Internet Archive, we will be transferring our 5 terabytes of data to the Library of Congress in early 2009. You can read more about this work on the project page.

Marcia Brooks on PBcore

December 20th, 2007

Current, “the newspaper about public TV and radio,” has a very nice two page article about PBcore by Marcia Brooks, who helped develop the proposal for CPB funding of the PBCore project and directed the project at WGBH for most of the last six years. Some of the main points:

  • Almost six years ago CPB had the foresight to fund the development of a metadata standard for the multimedia, multiplatform present and future of public broadcasting.
  • Frontline and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer are using PBCore as the basis of the Frontline/NewsHour video database and are using a modified version to let web users click for “related video.”
  • If you go to the National Educational Telecommunications Association Conference next month, check out the PBCore session Thursday morning, Jan. 24, about PBCore in three stations’ real-world workflows. There are many more uses of PBCore in the field, including more documented case examples on

Some observations about Images for the Future

November 6th, 2007

The Dutch national audiovisual archive Beeld en Geluid, and its partners in the Images for the Future project are in the process of digitizing 22,500 hours of film, 137,000 hours of television, 124,000 hours of radio recordings, and 2.9 million photos. They have received an investment of 154 million euros from the Dutch government that will be spread out over 7 years.

There are a number of very interesting aspects to this project that others, especially in the U.S., could learn from.

The new Beeld en Geluid building (which is beautiful and dramatic), has apparently inspired some donors of archival material to trust them and to want to contribute. Its museum had 250,000 visitors in its first year, which in a country of 16 million people is huge.

Visitors typically stay for four and half hours; most people get really involved in watching news and entertainment footage from their youth. Visitors are invited to assemble and read the news, or decide about the best programming for saturday night. They have a great promotional film that they show in the museum.

The back story on their funding is instructive. The Images for the Future project was able to obtain funding on a large scale by applying the same style of economic analysis to the archive as is applied to other government funded infrastructure. A study conducted on their behalf by a management consultancy concluded that “The present value of the total user benefits of the plan is approx. E176 million. Compared to these benefits, the costs drawn up in euros in 2006 amount to E148 million…” This kind of thorough, sober, cost benefit analysis of educational infrastructure is something U.S. organizations could emulate. It also forces the project to generate benefits. E 19 million has to be earned by the project partners, an outcome of the cost benefit analysis.

They are also engaging rights holders (and thus mass clearance) in a very interesting way. First, they are committed to ensuring that all rights are completely protected. But they are making their catalog available online, and for right holders that want it, they are linking catalog entries to stills, low res, or hi res moving images.

This seems like an excellent way to satisfy rights holders, and to gradually make most their collection accessible online — it seems a foregone conclusion that sales of the material by right holders will be increased if people can browse it first.

Like everyone, they are grappling with questions related to metadata, from lack of metadata on most tape cases, the habit of some producers to cram tapes full of random segments, and in harmonizing information from 150 (!) different databases that have been built over the years.

They are going with MXF & MPEG-2 at 50 Mbps for most television material, and MXF & MPEG-2 at 30 Mbps for news.

They are launching a project to link their materials to other “trusted,” repositories e.g. maps & newspapers, for educational purposes. On top of these repositories, student will get tools to work wih the materials and teachers will get tools to develop lessons. Sort of like Teachers’ Domain.

As with the PTV Digital Archive, they are going to start working on capturing web sites associated with programs and films, but there are challenges related to capturing streams and some AV files.

For other archives grappling with questions of file formats, metadata, selection, and budgeting, the approaches taken in the Netherlands can serve as a useful model. There is more background from the New York Times in a recent article, “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, Encased in Glass.”

Survey of Digital Formatting Practices in Public Television

September 28th, 2007

At long last! Dave MacCarn’s outstanding survey of file formats and practices in public television production and distribution is now available.

Survey of Digital Formatting Practices in Public Television

We hope this will be useful to organizations that are facing the sometimes daunting prospect of making choices about how to archive video files for preservation.

Please contact us with questions or comments about this or any of our other materials.

Report from IMLS Seminar at the Museum of the Moving Image

June 25th, 2007

Last week, I participated in an all-day seminar hosted by the Museum ofthe Moving Image in Queens. It was sponsored in part by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which provides federal funding to libraries and museums.

IMLS has been supporting an impressive range of innovative projects to help their constituents embrace the challenges of the digital world. This seminar was called: Open Collections: Exploring Online Cultural Resources, and the program focused on managing collections on-line.

A key goal was to promote the Museum’s free open source collections management application - ‘Open Collection.‘ IMLS supported developing this software, and from my untutored eye, it appeared many institutions might find it a useful tool, although it is not suitable for us. (The folks from the Museum of Natural History were quite enthusiastic about it.)

Even so, I was very happy to be reminded that there is a creative and functional world of digital catalogs and collections outside our rather narrow broadcast focus.

The CORSAIR system at the Morgan Library was nothing short of elegant, and the Virtual New York City project, underway at the New Media Lab at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center was just one example of an on-line collection as a work-in-in progress.

All the examples demonstrated that large, complex aggregations of digitized resources can be easily used — if they have well-organized databases/content management systems running behind them. It made me long for a few million dollars so we could produce something similar.

The seminar also emphasized the recent and growing shift away from local computing over to ’superior’ web-based applications. OK, I got that message. These tools are coming up fast, and they offer flexibility and functionality, plus the opportunity for sharing tasks much more broadly.

But the shift is hardly seamless. How do our disparate databases, running on all manner of systems both local and web-based, communicate with each other, not to mention maintain file integrity and security? (Hey, isn’t that C3PO’s job???) And how do we pay for it? Clearly they have a way to go yet, and no one told us what was under the hood.

Also, I couldn’t help thinking about broadband access, and how this is based on the naive assumption that everyone has super-fast downloading capabilities. (Not so.) Or that small, sophisticated, hand-held devices will continue to roll out and alter how we experience the internet.

Mostly, though, the seminar reinforced my conviction that public broadcasting should mobilize our army of volunteers to help describe and catalog our video collections.

To me, descriptive cataloging remains one of the biggest hurdles we have to clear in order to make our materials findable, searchable, and truly accessible.

Alas, we will never have a crew of professional librarians and catalogers paid to tackle this problem. But wait — we already DO have thousands of well-educated volunteers and supporters at local stations around the country!

What with so much ‘tagging’ already going on, it’s not much of a stretch to develop a participatory plan. And with a web-based application, folks doing the work could reside anywhere.

To develop a credible and useful cataloging system, of course we’ll need standards. We’ll also need common database templates (based on PBcore), and we’ll have to create a structured process based on professional criteria.

Then, voila! If we provide training, review and oversight, we can let folks go at it. I imagine many volunteers would be delighted to participate in such a collaborative, substantive effort.. And no doubt, some of them would be excellent.

I left the seminar filled with ideas about how to get started — what could go into designing a pilot project and who might help us.

Much more exciting than free software - thank you IMLS and Museum of the Moving Image!

A Short Project Description and Update

June 25th, 2007

For project team members out on the road and in need of a project summary on paper, we now have a spiffy new Project Summary. on archiving PBS programs

May 29th, 2007

Everything Old Can Be New Again, Nan Rubin’s article in Current, the newspaper about public TV and radio, offers an overview of PBS archives, plans for the future, and advice for station managers concerned about preservation and access. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s time to get over our wasteful habit of letting our programs vanish forever. We’ve got decades of national and local productions sitting in storage, and the public is hungry for them. Making programs accessible will generate great goodwill, new audiences and new funding.

The 51st State: New Finding Aid On-Line for 1970’s Iconoclastic NYC News Magazine

March 9th, 2007

Thirteen/WNET New York invites you to check out the finding aid for our newly remastered landmark public affairs series, The 51st State.

On the air from 1972-1976, The 51st State began as a nightly news program with a mission to present in-depth and thoughtful reporting of regional issues.  During this period, New York City was struggling with the national traumas brought on by the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War, as well as facing a rising crime rate and heading towards the largest financial crisis of its history (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”).


The program was noted for an unorthodox journalistic style and covered a wide range of subjects, from a town hall meeting of youth gangs in the Bronx and the pollution of the Hudson River to statewide hearings on abortion legislation and the New York City take on such national issues as pornography and the war in Vietnam. 


Unconventional from the start, Jack Willis, the series’ Executive Producer, hired a combination of experienced print and television reporters along with a selection of completely inexperienced but eager young journalists.  He gave The 51st State added credibility with the hiring of Host and Editor, Patrick Watson, who had long been regarded as the foremost television interviewer and public affairs program producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.


The program was given an unprecedented amount of editorial freedom and jumped right in to exploring contemporary urban concerns.  This resulted in fresh and creative coverage of the people and issues that made up New York City, affectionately known as The 51st State.  Nat Hentoff stated, “This provocatively unpredictable nightly news show [The 51st State] is beginning to present a formidable challenge to print journalists while leaving the other local television news operations a light-year behind (The New York Times, April 2, 1972).” 


This project was made possible thanks to a grant from the NATIONAL HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS AND RECORDS COMMISSION (NHPRC).  It is the first in an ongoing initiative at Thirteen to preserve important programs from our library of 30,000 videotapes. 


Stay tuned for announcements about other collections!

For more information about viewing the programs, please contact us:

Winter Shanck
Archival Media Librarian
450 West  33d St.
New York, NY 10001

CPB Names David Liroff Senior VP System Development and Media Strategy

February 23rd, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) today announced the appointment of David Liroff as Senior Vice President, System Development and Media Strategy. Liroff comes to CPB from WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts where he has held the position of Vice President and Chief Technology Officer since 1995. At CPB, he will oversee CPB initiatives including: system strategy and policy development, audience- based research, implementation of station grant policy and strategy, and investments in new technologies.

“David brings an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and senior management experience in public broadcasting and new media,” said CPB president and CEO Patricia Harrison. “We are thrilled to have such a remarkable individual help guide CPB on behalf of the stakeholders of public broadcasting.”

“David has made enormous contributions to WGBH and to the public broadcasting system,” said WGBH president Henry Becton, Jr. “We have benefited greatly from his expertise and sound guidance on a range of issues from technology to strategy and policy. We’ll miss David at WGBH, but we are delighted that the entire system will now have the benefit of his wisdom.”

Over the course of his tenure with WGBH, David Liroff has been responsible for production services, engineering, information technology, telecommunications, digital asset management, audience research, broadcasting, creative services, membership, major gifts and capital campaign fundraising, local program and national “how-to” program production, and for overseeing WGBH’s transition to digital production and broadcasting. …more