Virtual library of cultural assets coming up in DD

With just five permanent staff members working out of a temporary accommodation, Doordarshan Archives is digitally archiving intellectual property wealth that took roughly Rs 7.5 billion to create, and is steadily moving towards online selling of DVDs and then, video on demand.

The picture can be bewildering seen from any angle, whether it is the temporary office space, human resources or technology, or the sheer value of the property that is going on the digital archives server, with meta data tags attached to each piece of DD production.

Kamalini Dutt, director (archives) tells indiantelevision.com that a value could perhaps be put, but then truly speaking it is invaluable.

An old tape being cleaned of fungus and dust in the DCB machine using hi-tech precision machines

"I have got, for example, footage of a 35-year-old sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan in black and white, then I have a 45-year-old Khan playing sarod and now I have a 55 or 60-year-old Amjad Ali Khan… so it is really the life journey of a maestro," Dutt says.

Likewise, there are programmes of all the vocal, instrumental, dance, painting, sculpting, theatre maestros, everything (barring those destroyed due to time loss) that DD has gathered since the early 1960s, when DD productions started.

No wonder that when the DD Archives team made a recent presentation at Golden Prague festival where classical music programme across the world were presented, there was a massive curiosity level from world experts.

"They all asked about where these things were available and how they could access this," said Dutt, initially the lone crusader for digital archiving in DD, before she was joined by Director (IPR) Ved Rao.

Insiders in the archives project - all infected with the virus called ‘save our cultural heritage programmes‘ - say that between the two of them, Rao and Dutt have been responsible for this project that involves state of the art technology.

These include the latest, digital restorer machine that can restore programmes from any format used in the past to the format presently being used in DD, and record them digitally to be made into printable master copies.

The process takes an enormous amount of time per programme, starting with creating the meta data tag.

Old legacy tapes even in such conditions are cured and then digitised for archiving

This is a form that is filled up first by hand, mentioning everything about a programme, from the title to the gist of it, the producer‘s name, time, format, when it was created, right down to the stack where it is stored.

Another set of persons are making hard copy of transcripts, some others giving new sub titles, mostly in English which creates more value for a programme by enlarging the audience for it.

There is a specific room Rao shows around the system, where there are computer stacks, which can be shifted on rails and gives great flexibility to storage space, a room where 18 Celsius temperature and a specific humidity level is maintained at all times.

Rao, however, often sounds despondent: "Many centres have not sent their legacy tapes," she laments, and adds that of the oldest programmes, only 170-odd hours could be preserved.

Rao says Dutt has issued a dictum that whatever is left or the old as well as whatever is being created new, "not an inch of tape can be thrown away".

"We have told them, you do not have to store, just send everything to us and we shall store them."

The staff strength is also bewildering: just five permanent ones.

Says Dutt: "We are just five. We are using the services of old, senior and retired DD hands who had been editors and programme executives and they are being outsourced the work for editing and other such work, because they have knowledge of that.

Experts on arts working at meta data centre for previews of old tapes

"But for computerised work, we are outsourcing the work to youngsters, who are good at handling computers and more adept at using software."

The talk veers back to value, and Dutt says that DD gives roughly RS 250,000 to RS 400,000 to an independent producer for a 30-minute programme, so one can calculate that 250,000 programmes on archiving at the moment could have cost roughly RS 7.5 billion to create, but that is not the real value.

Dutt explains: "As a programme sits in my library and gets older, it grows in value. For instance, where will we ever get another Bismillah Khan? So, truly speaking, the value of those programmes we have on Khan sahib could be enormous."

Many of the programmes have in fact been made into DVDs, and sold at RS 395 per copy, and the hottest selling have been shows by MS Subbulakshmi, Beghum Akhtar, Sufiana Music and Bismillah Khan.

CD copies come for RS 295 and audio tapes for RS 195 a piece, and these are available at all DD Kendras, as well as other places.

Ved M Rao, Director, IPR, with Afghan delegates at the compacter section

Dutt informs that almost all the top music companies, including Music Today, had come seeking collaboration when this RS 30 million a year project or archiving started and when RS 7.5 million out of that was apportioned for creating DVDs and selling them.

"Surprisingly for some of my colleagues, though not surprising to me, we have made a profit on that," Dutt says.

Rao adds that some of the best selling products have had three or four print runs of 3,000 copies each run.

Dutt says about the collaboration: "We did not want that, we wanted our own exclusive stuff, which could be repurposed for any specific use, and we are thus competing with private channels offering flexi time to viewers.

Though Dutt, a diminutive powerhouse of an official, did not set a date to it, the next step, she said, would be making available such programmes for DD‘s VoD set up that is likely to come up soon.

Soon, DD would be creating a website for this archive and the selling of DVDs online would be taken up, Dutt informs, but says that selling other footage would not be possible because of DRM (digital rights management) problems.

Typically of a pubcaster mindset, DD is not just raking in moolah for itself, but offering the benefits of the sales to the creators as well, including the artists, and Rao as Director IPR, is working out the value of programmes and the creators‘ shares with them.

The idea is to have a virtual library with meta data tags on each programme, which then can be used commercially, instead of storing programmes that are used once in three or four years.

"See, all these were made with public money, so why should we just keep it and not make it available to them at an affordable price and let them enjoy a higher level of aesthetic experience," Dutt says.

However, though there is a large market, Dutt admits that it is this issue of higher level of aesthetic experience that keep the market contained within some elite sections who have the taste, exposure and desire to experience that aesthetic, but that elite happens to be global and expanding, as the eyes on India expands exponentially.

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