New search tool vital for digital media future: France's INA

15th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

French digital archive leader INA is positioning itself as a global tool helping researchers, officials, journalists and private citizens gain better access and safeguard historic material, the group's director said.

National Audiovisual Institute president Mathieu Gallet said INA's expertise in audiovisual conservation and enhancement, and in particular its revolutionary new indexing system, will allow improved search and access to a rapidly growing digital treasure trove stored in databases around the world.

And as media companies grapple with steadily shrinking revenue streams from traditional sources like newspapers, Gallet said INA can help firms in the United States -- where digital archiving was pioneered -- earn income from on-line, search-and-retrieve digital databases.

"We have a sizeable head start" on the competition, Gallet told AFP in an interview in Los Angeles, where he attended a digital archive symposium Sunday at the University of California.

"Americans are interested, for example, in how we solved the industry's digitization problems by introducing an indexing system" that rapidly became the global leader in the field, he added.

INA is charged with safeguarding and digitizing about 88 percent of French radio, television and newsreel archives -- millions of hours of audiovisual footage -- by the year 2015.

"By the end of the year we'll have 800,000 hours of digitized material. What will we do with it?" he asked.

INA began converting vast storages of material, much of it decades old, in the 1990s when the process was in its infancy.

The movement has today become a worldwide rush to convert countless hours of audiovisual footage before the hardware on which they are stored -- old floppy disks, hard drives, VHS or Betamax tape -- degrade or technologies become obsolete.

Initially, the scanning and digitizing was done purely as a way to salvage France's audiovisual heritage.

"We got lucky in the 2000s with the development of broadband, which allowed for broadcast. So we're no longer just preservationists."

But the principal challenge now, he said, "is how we exploit and take advantage of all these archives."

"It is useless to search such an archive if you can not find anything in it."

Archive digitization is occurring piecemeal across the United States, where no single state entity, like INA in France, is coordinating the projects.

As a result, Gallet said, American companies are closely watching INA's archives progress.

© 2010 AFP

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