Posts Tagged ‘ACMI’

Challenges ACMI face: Nick Richardson

NickRichardson_headshot
ACMI’s Collections and Access Manager Nick Richardson talks to CAN about the challenges the new Mediatheque deals with onsite and online — from access rights and digital preservation to audience evaluation and reporting to its content partners. In September 2009 it opened in Melbourne’s Federation Square as the shopfront for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) collections. The Centre has managed to secure 13 content partners – all of the television networks, government agencies, major educational institutions dealing with moving image and sound, together with a number of the production houses. The collaboration has allowed Mediatheque users to access a million items, including 160, 000 items predominantly on traditional analog forms, tape, disc, film from ACMI’s collection.

Please take us on a tour of the Mediatheque.
ACMI-9_withTV
Each of the 11 booths in the room has a tape and disc combo player. We’re really excited we’ve now got digitised content on what we call the VOD, or the video on demand system, which is a touch screen interface in each of the booths. There’s a range of curated highlighted packages, which allow us to illuminate aspects of the collection or provide a way into the collection because of an event or an activity, or a period of year. We’ve obviously got a package of stories, as well as the films of Adam Elliot to coincide with the exhibition which is going on downstairs, which we should have a look at. Also, as you pointed out then, a range of films, from filmmakers while they were still at school generally. This one is Sarah Watt, Gillian Armstrong, Chris Noonan, Phil Noyce, Jane Campion, and so on.

The idea of the interface is that, with as little effort as possible, you can be watching content. We’re trying to cater to both users of the collection, from an educational and research point of view, to work on an entertainment point of view, if you like.
We don’t have any intentions to put the VOD online. We’ve also had to renegotiate the rights to virtually every title in here. It’s one thing to hold a copy of “Storm Boy” in our collection, for instance. The copyright laws allow us to show that on site, but only in the form that we originally purchased it in. We get life of print rights; we don’t have the rights to make a digital copy of anything in our collection. We’ve actually had to go back and negotiate those rights with virtually every one of the currently 500 titles in here.

That’s what’s really time consuming, and something that often people who come and use the collection don’t quite understand. It has been a criticism of ACMI’s collection in the past. People will say, “Why can’t we just put them all on DVD?” Well, for the simple fact that we’ve done is, we’ve got life of print rights and they don’t include the transfer of that material from one form to another.

What is ACMI’s digital preservation policy?
ACMI’s an interesting case, in the sense that we are not an archive. In the case of “Storm Boy”, “Storm Boy” was provided to us from the NFSA. Through the process of digitising it we have returned to them the uncompressed digital asset, and we are holding the compressed H264 digital asset for use in the VOD, and that forms part of our normal business IT backup process. ACMI is an access collection, so anything that we found that was rare and significant, we would repatriate to an archive anyway and negotiate to hold and access copy of that.

So, we have a cultivation responsibility, if you like, to try and preserve our items within our collection for use for as long as possible, but we’re not an archive, so anything that we have found in our collection that is rare or unique has been repatriated to the relevant archive whether that’s in Australia or oversees.

We’ve got a kind of preservation responsibility to insure that our access items are kept in good condition and available for as long as possible, and particularly because when what we do is we acquire extended rights to lend, for instance, based on print not content. So, in some cases we’ve paid $1, 000 for the tape. It’s in our interest to look after that tape as well as we can to provide as much and ongoing access to it as we can. But, certainly the process now, having got the media to open and establish these partnerships, is then to begin to discuss with those other partners how we can facilitate access to material and be part of the digital preservation process of those titles. And, you know, like most organisations we’re still to some extent working our way through exactly what is the best digital preservation path to take.

I’m an old filmie, I guess. I remain healthily skeptical of the digital age in the sense that the looniest films can still be projected, and even if every 35mm projector in the world broke, you could still shine a light through the image and put a lens in front of it and see the image. So, it’s a tangible medium that actually proven over a 130 years, or whatever it is, it’s preservation credentials. So, I don’t think we’re alone in approaching the digital preservation area with some caution. And one of the things that’s been really good for ACMI, again this collaboration and also working with some of the other collection agencies in Victoria, we’re part of a group, a cultural network, that’s discussing the issues, so we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or go down a preservation path in isolation. We’re actually part of now a broader community that’s addressing those issues. So, that’s a good thing for us.

I noticed that you have developed some great partnerships with Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) and the Council of Australian Museum Directors. Do you see the boundaries changing within the collecting sector?
screenworlds
It’s not only how ACMI’s viewing itself. I think it’s how others in that cultural network are viewing ACMI. I think for a long time film was seen as little more than entertainment. Now it’s really holding it’s place as both a medium of art and also a medium of legitimate social and historical research. It’s not just filmmakers that use our collection. It’s social historians that use our collection because the films are viewed more as documents now along aside the other more traditional paper-based documents, and particularly new media art. Now, we have galleries here at ACMI, because what we display is art, and so I think there’s been a bit of a shift in that dynamic.

You can see that now in the emerging academic discourse on video games. I mean there’s the new example of that, that video games have always been considered as frivolous entertainment, and now there’s a growing academic discourse about them, and more and more the games themselves are more moving image and less game if you like.

I think the medium we deal with has now a different perception in the community, so it’s made it easier to be part of that network. And increasingly people like the gallery to hold new media artworks too. So we’re also in a position to provide galleries expertise in how to display and how to preserve.

We’re working with the Shepparton Regional Art Gallery at the moment because we hold a video installation by an artist they’re doing a retrospective of, so they’ve sought our permission for us to provide them copies of that, but more importantly, in a way, they’re also seeking some expert advice on how they should display a five screen synchronous new media installation.

What is ACMI’s plan for online?
mary_max_ex
We don’t have any intentions to put the VOD online. We’ve also had to renegotiate the rights to virtually every title in here. It’s one thing to hold a copy of “Storm Boy” in our collection, for instance. The copyright laws allow us to show that on site, but only in the form that we originally purchased it in. We get life of print rights; we don’t have the rights to make a digital copy of anything in our collection. We’ve actually had to go back and negotiate those rights with virtually every one of the currently 500 titles in here.

That’s what’s really time consuming, and something that often people who come and use the collection don’t quite understand. It has been a criticism of ACMI’s collection in the past. People will say, “Why can’t we just put them all on DVD?” Well, for the simple fact that we’ve done is, we’ve got life of print rights and they don’t include the transfer of that material from one form to another.

ACMI produces quite a bit of its own content. We work very closely with community groups, regional groups and schools to produce digital stories. Some of that content is already on our website, but personally, there’s no doubt that online delivery of content is part and parcel of where we’re moving towards. The effort involved in contacting every rights holder and negotiating the rights to put what we can present on site, up online is fairly daunting.

We were very lucky to negotiate with Animal and the production company for “Mary and Max,” to be able to put “Mary and Max” here in the Mediatheque to coincide with the exhibition downstairs for a limited period of time. Now that was a bit of a coup for us to be able to put a currently, commercially viable title, free, onsite and I think it’s been watched almost three hundred times since we’ve put it up.

But if we approached the production company or indeed the distributor of the DVD asking if we could put it up online the answer would probably be, “No”. The major concerns there are about the protection of their intellectual property. So I’m quite happy to proceed cautiously and slowly with that.

The National Film Board of Canada has an absolutely fantastic website with a tremendous amount of content, but it’s content that they own the rights to. Both ACMI and the NFSI own very little of what we hold. So it’s certainly something that’s on our agenda for the future, but it’s something that I’m very happy to proceed cautiously with. My model is to show material in a way that is not disadvantaging anybody’s commercial opportunity.

We’d like to think that people come to the exhibition, watch twenty minutes of “Mary and Max” and then think, “Oh, this is so good, I’ll buy a copy and take it home.” So we’re, I’m trying to build the model progressively to show that in any stage of the development of the Mediatheque we’re protecting people’s rights, we like to think we’re, if anything, enhancing the commercial opportunity for them to exploit their own content but that our paramount importance is two-fold – one is to protect people’s rights and the other is to get this material seen by researchers, academics, actors, filmmakers, members of the general public.

What is your approach to negotiating rights?
I’ve deliberately shied away from complicating the rights negotiation for the media take with any suggestion of online just because I think, again, it’s about building a good model here and then allowing people to feel comfortable that, “We’ve operated this for, ” let’s say, “two years and the model’s worked well, ” and we’ve proceeded with integrity you know in respecting in rights and in cultural issues. And then we can begin to target how to, what we want to put online and how we want to go about it. And then go back to those rights holders. And some will be easier than others. So, in the case of Adam, his first three films before “Harvey Crumpet, ” he kinds of considers have run their course and he’s done as much with them as he’s ever likely to and his attitude is a bit more relaxed about them. So we have broadcast quality masters of those three films with rights to exhibit and basically use within ACMI’s premises any way we see fit. I would think that negotiating with him to put, you know, either the whole title or snippets of that title online would be less problematic than it would be negotiating with Grundy to put an episode of one of their soap operas that they’re still selling on DVD up online.

How do you manage audience evaluation?
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We collect three types of user stats from the view on demand system. One is popular titles, so we basically just count the number of times a title is viewed. We also monitor the method in which that title has been found. So, the people who have gone to a title through a highlights package, or through one of the explore categories, or have they done a search specifically for that title. That’s quite revealing.

The other thing we do is monitor the percentage of each title viewed. So, we’ve got “The Sentimental Bloke,” which goes for however long “The Sentimental Bloke” goes for. We’ve also got “Kid Stakes,” a 1927 Australian feature film. It’s silent. It goes for an hour and eight minutes. Are people watching all of it, or are they just watching six minutes of it?
That’s a really important stat, because it allows us to consider which areas of the view on demand content we grow. If we’ve got 20 pre ’50s Australian feature films, and people are only watching six minutes of them, then do we really need to put a whole lot more pre ’50s feature films on? We’re monitoring is patrons’ session times. So, how long are people spending in each booth? How many titles in each session are they watching? Are they watching only six minutes of “Kid Stakes,” but then six minutes of “The Sentimental Bloke,” then all of “Storm Boy,” and then a video art?

We’re trying to build up a picture of what people are watching, what they’re watching it in combination with, and how they get into what they watch. We’ve only been collecting the stats. It’s been quite difficult to get it up and running. We’ve only been collecting the stats for about eight weeks, but already, a really interesting pattern of usage is starting to emerge. We get, on average, about 100 people a day. We’re open seven days a week. On school holidays, that rises to between 150 and 200. We find that people generally stay about an hour. That includes the people who wander in and say, “What’s this place? What are you doing here?” and will say, “I’ll just have a little look,” and an hour later, they’ve watched three short films. People come in and start with something that’s familiar to them, and then use that as the springboard to branch out into other things. I actually find the TV ads are incredibly popular. I suspect because they’re short, and they put people in mind of a past very quickly. But then, they’ll often use them to branch out and watch other things. The stats collection is really pretty clear to what we do.

Its something that we’re able to report back to our content partners. It’s very heartening to be able to say to someone like the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, who have been enormously supportive of us. “We’ve got 38 titles in our collection from you, in the VOD from you, and this is how many times they’ve been watched, and these are the popular titles,” and so on. It’s a good reporting function for our partners, as much as anything.

Sarah Rhodes interviewed ACMI Collection Manager Nick Richardson on May 4, 2010 in the Mediatheque.

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