Film and photos lost, now found

Making still and movie image collections accessible

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To make digital content accessible and discoverable, you need metadata that will match your content to the needs and wants of a particular market or audience. News, movies, entertainment or non-commercial images all struggle to be seen until they are defined.

How material gets defined for easy access is a challenge to every content owner.

Metadata is the data about the data. Metadata describes and captures the details. For digital media, metadata connects your content to the keywords that people enter in a search string. Choosing the right metadata to capture is key.

For example, what if a professional wrestling fan wanted to see a few film clips of his or her favorite wrestler hitting someone with a shillelagh—a wooden stick used as a weapon or walking stick? It’s a common prop in pro-wrestling and a pretty well-known object. Wrestling fans know that the WWE has a website, apps and all kinds of great ways to engage and connect, all very searchable.  A fan who wants to see wrestlers that fight with a shillelagh only need to enter that word. But what if they misspell it—Shelaleigh? Shelaly? Schillaly?

As another example, fans know that wrestlers hit each other with folding chairs. It’s a thing in the pro-wrestling community. WWE identifies all those things and creates careful wording to reflect them, taking misspellings or possible mistakes into account.

A story of matching media assets to fans

As a global entertainment and integrated media leader, WWE is in the business of making their video, film and other content formats available. Since their archive stretches back decades and they have a loyal fan base, WWE developed a plan. They identified key events and agreed on various ways they could categorize things, from the fan’s perspective. And what better way to get the fan’s perspective than from fans themselves?  

Once WWE identified all the metadata they could on their own, they unleashed the experts—some of their fans. They gathered dozens of superfans together, fueled them with unlimited pizza and soda, and let them watch every second of film, writing down keywords and data points along the way. This helped the WWE create smart, customer-driven metadata.

Joining the digital stock-footage market

The ability to scan high-quality images has given content-holders in possession of rarely seen materials an option to share those materials in high-definition format.. But then what? How does one even let the world know they have some amazing, valuable or unique images, let alone make them available to others?

High-resolution scanning and transferring films and pictures to digital format are the first steps. After that comes the important detail work, including careful curation and smart cataloging to capture all the details, all while considering the needs and wants of target markets and potential audiences. Whatever the size or content of your photographs, video or movies, those images need to be viewed closely, with an eye for details, because metadatum is about details.

Identify what matters to your markets and any other audience that may be interested. Then work with an archivist to develop a plan on how to gather this data. A good archivist may note dozens of data points, for example:

  • Are there cars in the image?
  • How many, what color, make, model, year?
  • Is that woman waving at the camera sporting a beehive hairdo or other characteristic that communicates a specific time or era?
  • What is the name of the shop in the background?

And if a word like shillelagh will likely be misspelled, the metadata needs to account for that.

These small details form the basis of the descriptions and keywords that need to be in the metadata, which are the entry points for all those seeking eyes out there, revealing your content to them.

Metadata details

Reaching target markets and potential new audiences

Along with more accessible ways for people to find and scan content, there is also a growing number of ways to share these images with your target audience. Commercial or non-profit enterprises with strong brand awareness and huge followings can leverage that strength. WWE gets some 300 million page-views monthly and has 130,000 hours of content, with 500 hours of new footage added annually.

Meanwhile, a small historical society or some other collection with little-to-no awareness can post a movie or still images to social media websites like YouTube, Vimeo, Redditt, Pinterest and Instagram. Millions of people search and use these networks daily, so a large advertising budget isn’t necessary. However, good metadata is crucial, because good metadata is what matches the ‘tags’ and searchable words and phrases that help someone find content they didn’t know existed.

Besides reaching target markets, metadata can also expand the reach of your content to new user groups. For example, a small museum that specializes in early farming equipment and methods may have a small, narrow collection of photos and home movies of farmers plowing fields. That content naturally appeals to a farm-tools enthusiast, but it also may fit the needs of someone looking for overalls or straw hats, or a movie or documentary-maker in need of historical footage to depict an old family farm in Iowa.

Other steps you can take to be found:

  • Professional organizations that specialize in moving images.
  • Marketing experts that can help you license and sell your images.
  • Professionals who research images and stock footage on behalf of filmmakers and historians seeking new content.
  • Academic and research institutions that may want to partner or share with a content-holder, thereby increasing the visibility of one’s movies and images.

I will explore some of these options in future posts. Meanwhile, don’t invest all your effort and budgets to high-resolution scanning and neglect smart, thorough metadata. Otherwise, you’ll just be swapping those old cardboard boxes for new digital boxes.

Danny Kuchuck

Danny Kuchuck

Danny Kuchuck is a filmmaker, writer and archivist living in New York. He is a former film technician and project manager for LAC Group, and prior to that, PRO-TEK Vaults.
Danny Kuchuck

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