New Technology to Address Hollywood's Digital Archiving Dilemma

The 'Archive Exchange Format' has been standardized by SMPTE with participants from organizations including Disney, Universal and the Library of Congress
Courtesy of SMPTE
Peter Symes

A new Archive Exchange Format created to give Hollywood more peace of mind when it comes to saving its movies in digital formats, is set to be launched next week by global standards body the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Archiving has been a growing concern as the movie business has shifted from film to digital. In fact, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Science and Technology Council has even written several reports warning Hollywood of this “Digital Dilemma.”

Film has been proven to last a least a century if stored in a cold room. But with the digital age having arrived, studios now generally keep additional copies of their movies on a digital format, primarily LTO (Linear Tape-Open) tape. But, at the moment, this isn’t considered to be the ideal digital solution, as the digital formats continue to change and digital storage currently requires periodic transfer of the movies to new media. It is said that data stored on LTO tape can actually last several decades, however some Hollywood insiders have identified instances of significant data loss on these tapes in fewer than five years.

Another part of the problem is that there are multiple digital archiving systems in the market, as well as multiple versions of existing digital storage technologies, meaning you can't always go back and read data stored on some systems. (To liken it to home video, for instance, a family that now has a Blu-Ray player can't use it to play a VHS tape).

The Archive Exchange Format, or AXF, has been made a standard by SMPTE to give content owners “more confidence in the future,” by providing “a robust mechanism for storing archival material on any physical medium that is recoverable with any other AXF-supported technology,” SMPTE director of engineering and standards Peter Symes told THR. That means that as digital archiving technologies change, there could effectively be a consistent and interchangeable way to read the stored data using any AXF-supported system. Support for cloud-based storage was also considered in the development phase.

The SMPTE effort involved representatives from stakeholders in Hollywood and beyond, including Disney, ABC, ESPN, NBC/Universal, PBS, Turner, Sony, IBM and even the Library of Congress.

Symes reported that various manufacturers are already working on adding AXF support into their products, and SMPTE additionally intends to publish open source software allowing users to recover AXF files.

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