The Value of Audiovisual Archives

Try imagining all the world’s existing audiovisual material: all the films ever made, plus the television footage ever shot, plus all the sounds once recorded – add the scientific and military observations and home videos, the (super) 8 mm recordings, the YouTube generation’s creations. Then, try to visualise not the kilometers of celluloid or optical disks or hours and lifetimes it would take to see it all, but what the possible value of all those sounds and images would be.

Do they indeed, as the author of the just released report Assessing the Audiovisual Archive Market, Peter B. Kaufman, proposes, form a sort of crude oil – ready to be refined, reassembled and made into a new creative product?

In the same way that oil, pumped from the ground, is refined and then used to fuel transportation and industry, or iron, mined from the ground, is smelted into steel and used in construction, so audiovisual materials mined from the archives form part of the backbone of information, com- munication, and our creative knowledge economy, worldwide.

Assessing the Audiovisual Archive Market

Assessing the Audiovisual Archive Market: Models and Approaches for Audiovisual Content Exploitation was commissioned by PrestoCentre, the international competence centre for digital audiovisual preservation. It explores the ways that a audiovisual archives have been “examining, appreciating, and even embracing business and commercial interactions in the digital age”. The report takes a look back at 124 years of audiovisual archiving and how the challenge of preserving moving images and sounds has reached increasing levels of complexity.

This increased complexity, not in the least caused by the advent of digital production and storage methods, leads to a mirrored exchange between the access and preservation tasks of the contemporary archive: twin missions, as Kaufman calls them, that “twist around each other like the double helix of a modern memory institution’s DNA.” The paper investigates the forms and methods audiovisual archives have been approaching to fund this double mission and how they have shifted some of their attention towards possible cooperation with businesses and even taken advantage of existing commercial opportunities.

new opportunities for cultural heritage institutions to develop business models, revenue streams, and business knowledge — and in the process gain an even greater appreciation for the role they play in media, society, and our economies today — abound. This paper, focusing as it does on such opportunities, may provide activists in the field with inspiration and support.

In order to define the value of an audiovisual collection, one needs to get a clear idea about the costs involved – by mouth of one of the interviewees, the report states that “use has begun to define value”. Inversely, an item that is not well preserved, cannot be found and thus not used by anyone, ever again. The paper stresses the importance of access as a form of open access: the value that lies in use, sharing, reuse can only be realised when unrestricted online access allows participant from different online realms can use web tools to popularise and contextualise the assets. The paper intends to suggest that in the double helix between preservation and access, “support for one is support for both”.

It also underlines the need for the audiovisual archiving field that in dealing with the multi-billion dollar business partners who are currently so important for finding, exploring, discovering and buying media on the web, the field of archives and museums needs to be well aware of its value and importance, as well al the sensitivities we share and the experiences we’ve had.

No agent has been retained to represent the interests of libraries, archives, and museums, in the way an author or musician might retain one. No lawyers have been hired to pore over the body of agreements to date and highlight best practices for the community. No working group focused exclusively on improving public-private partnerships has been assembled and charged with a mission and a deadline. If the commercial sector is investing hundreds of millions of Euros, and a hundred billion are needed, we had better get started.

7 Recommendations

The report offers 7 Recommendations and proposes the development of four new tools for a smarter (re-)use of audiovisual archival content. The recommendations are:

  • Audiovisual archives should consider themselves part and parcel of the knowledge economy.
  • Audiovisual archives should recognize that multibillion-dollar businesses are growing based on materials they curate; and as a result their institutions deserve to participate in the revenue these materials are generating, in the knowhow that they are contributing, and in other direct and indirect benefits these materials are making to the world.
  • Audiovisual archives more than anything need something approximat ing an old-fashioned guild, where collective knowledge can come to rest, and where business savvy from attorneys, dealmakers, and others might be fielded and centralized.
  • The field needs to hire, in effect, an advocate — perhaps a sanhedrin of wise men and women who can look after its collective interest and help it argue on its own behalf and on behalf of the public sector.
  • When approaching business relationships, audiovisual archives should consider the arrangements from the perspective of their commercial partners, recognizing that the strongest players in the audiovisual marketplace are in the business now for the long term, making strategic rather than tactical investments in the sector.
  • Archives should recognize in particular the value of their building comprehensive metadata resources and optimizing their audiovisual resources for search and discovery.
  • In the audiovisual archive world, archives have been dealt a strong hand. They need to recognize that audiovisual material now and over time will be the most sought- after assets to monetize.

The reasoning behind these recommendations and the well-recommended, 30-page report, are available for download as a PDF in the PrestoCentre library.

Related reading

  • Economies of the Commons 3: Sustainable Futures for Digital Archives – http://ecommons.eu – Conference outcomes, November, 2012
  • EUscreen Publishes its Second Online Access to Audiovisual Heritage Status Report – http://blog.euscreen.eu/?p=3235 – July, 2012
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