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Digital Technology - Not Always Making Life Easier! (Brussels Meeting 10th Sept)

1 September 2003

Digital technology enables new ways for footage libraries to deliver their services, but life for some archive researchers is not necessarily getting easier! That was the message from FOCAL International's meeting of more than fifty archive professionals in Brussels on 10th September.

FOCAL members from all over Europe had gathered as guests of Christian de Bruyne, Head of the Audiovisual Library of the European Commission for the one-day meeting to discuss the benefits of digital technology for the customer. On-line catalogues certainly give researchers the potential to search far more subjects and more quickly than has ever been possible, but, as Valerie Massignon of France's XY Zebre research company pointed out, producers now make more demands on researchers. She went on to say that just because a story can be located quickly through search of on-line databases, producers need to respect that the ability to clear rights, provide preview material and master footage on the right format, simply cannot be delivered at the same speed!

Wildlife stockshot library Marco Polo Archive would dispute this however. Their representatives Annette and Klaus Scheurich together with Juergen Kleinig were keen to show that through their new search and delivery portal
clips can be located, previewed and costed on-line more or less at once. The system that has been developed together with T-Systems using Convera's software is so sophisticated that stockshots can be searched not only by keywords, but also by mood and image data.

Admittedly stock footage lends itself well to this sort of on-line system, but for researchers of newsreels, archive and programme footage, on-line databases can be inadequate. FOCAL Research member Helga Fitzner said that the internet was always her first port of call for searching on-line databases, but emphasised that the supporting knowledge of experienced librarians is vital. Vast amounts of valuable footage remain uncatalogued, some is poorly shot-listed, descriptions can be misleading and underlying rights issues may not be identified, but when knowledgeable librarian's exist to support and advise on all these matters, the customer is more likely to be attracted to a particular library offering this additional service.

Konstantin von zur Muehlen of Chronos-Media and Barry Florin of British Movietonews, are both very aware of the "value added" by their experienced library staff. Whilst both offer on-line catalogues and are embracing the new digital technologies, they know that survival and independence will depend on their ability to offer that extra special personal service.

With the heavy costs of adopting new technologies, independent archives face choices as whether they should sell out to multinationals, be represented by a third party, join digital search portals, or go it alone. For the moment Chronos-Media and British Movietonews are doing just that!

Should they change their minds, the Footage Box platform might suit. It's designed to help smaller libraries make use of the new technology at relatively low cost - enabling them to get an internet presence and be able to market and deliver clips faster, but at the same time preserving each library's independence and control to deal with their own customers.

An alternative might be to hook up with Framepool who's collection of premium stock footage is fully accessible on-line with instant QuickTime preview and master material deliverable as MPEG2 downloads This speed of access obviously benefits customers with the right equipment, but, as Helga Fitzner reminded the delegates, those customers struggling with slow internet connections, or, having to share outdated PCs in small production companies - life is increasingly frustrating!

Yet another portal recently launched, thanks to a large injection of Euro money, is the NODAL project. It was initiated by Belgavox and St Thomas but a number of other companies such as RTL, ORF, RTBF and INNA have already come on board. The emphasis is on giving libraries a shop window to the internet in return for an income split on sales. Bertrand Loyer of St Thomas explained how the portal could be accessed through the website It allows researchers to browse multilingual text with sample images which broadens the scope of enquires and leads the customer directly to the relevant library sources for placing orders.

These options for getting into the digital environment all require varying degrees of financial commitment and sometimes a loss of control. Thierry Roland of Pathe France felt that FOCAL International, as the non-profit making trade organisation representing the footage archive business, was the only body which could ultimately provide an equitable portal for all libraries to be accessed through. Jane Mercer, FOCAL Chair retorted that it was definitely a service that the organisation was considering.

To round off the meeting, Hubert Best of Bird & Bird and FOCAL's legal adviser gave a detailed outline of how the digital environment has affected audiovisual rights. Despite the various treaties and laws that have come into effect across different territories, broadly speaking, the two main changes that have taken place in the digital world are that closer control of audiovisual rights is being achieved and international courts have become more far reaching.

Delegates then enjoyed a farewell drink courtesy the European Commission and host Christian de Bruyne, Head of the Audiovisual Library.