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Digitising the world one clip at a time

Kevin Schaff, CEO of Thought Equity Motion (TEM), described himself as a serial entrepreneur during an interview at AIDC earlier this year. Certainly, it takes someone with vision and ambition to have built a company in 5 years that is big enough to enter into partnership with BBC Worldwide’s BBC Motion Gallery (BBCMG).

BBCMG owns over a million hours of stock footage – or 114 years’ worth if you watched it in one sitting. It is also the exclusive global representative of the CBS News Archive, and has global distribution deals with NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and CCTV, China’s national television station.

TEM has over 5 million hours of footage, digitally stored away in a bunker in Brokeback Mountain territory, where power is nice and cheap. It is the licensing agent for media companies including Paramount Pictures, MGM, NBC News, HBO, National Geographic, Sony Pictures, and the NCAA.

The deal or, if you prefer, strategic relationship between the two companies announced last week gives BBCMG access to TEM’s advanced technology platform. TEM gets the rights to sell BBCMG content in the US and Asia; the deal works the other way round for the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The split of territories plays to the companies’ dominant positions and sales expertise in those parts of the world.

The upside for BBCMG is really the back end of TEM’s website, specifically the search capabilities of TEM’s proprietary system. As anyone who’s had to search BBC sites for stock footage can attest, ‘it could be easier’. And now – or soon – it will be.

Like the other archival companies, TEM is digitising its collection as fast as possible. Schaff reckons the standard is set by the original – it is always possible to play the material out to the standard of the original format, including 35mm film.

It is also restoring material as it goes, to repair colour, grade correctly, remove scratches and dirt, and reduce shake. TEM spends half the license fees from existing assets on digitising and restoring more.

The material is indexed by what Schaff calls “phonic searching”, which is creating metadata from the sound track; it basically stores a transcript of the dialogue, to 98% accuracy and in 22 languages. Then it runs a context search as well, to offer suggested combinations like a pushy version of Google.

TEM owns a goodly amount of Australasian content, including FilmWorld and exclusive rights to Cinesound Movietone, Tourism Queensland, Tourism Australia, Getaway and the National Rugby League.

A quick nose around the TEM and BBCMG sites brings up plenty of NZ-sourced content as well, just in case you need a reminder of what a stunning country you live in.

The good news for NZ-based content searchers is the speed of TEM’s site, combined with its robust delivery systems. Speed matters. Especially when there are 6 million hours of content to search.

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