The media industry is on a wild roller coaster ride when it comes to technology. Technological change is often sought for increased efficiency, but technological change can also occur out of necessity. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan, forcing Sony, the largest manufacturer of magnetic tape, to shut down its largest manufacturing plant. Magnetic tape is the format most commonly used by the film and entertainment industry as the “master” for many products. The loss of imported magnetic tape from Sony’s Japanese factories created a shortage of tape in Hollywood, and the major studios were forced to adapt by switching almost entirely to digital formatting.
For several decades, films were shot on expensive and highly flammable nitrate film stock, which easily decays over time. Nitrate stock was abandoned for less expensive, safer and longer lasting film stocks. Similarly, the switch from analog to digital video means that a lot of video is now recorded in a digital format or converted later to digital. Over the past couple of years there has been a gradual movement towards operating solely with digital formats, and that process has been drastically accelerated because of the earthquake. Media companies are scrambling to keep everything moving smoothly especially as TV shows are coming off of summer hiatus and filming again (HollywoodReporter.com).
The company I am working for is a post-production quality control facility in Los Angeles. When I started here two months ago the mastering department was working mainly with tape. The tapes were physically picked up by our company and brought to the facility to be viewed and driven back to the client when the work was done. As the summer is drawing to a close, however, all of the new feature films the company works on are delivered directly to the company hard drives via a digital pipeline or occasionally picked up on a portable hard drive. In the course of just eight weeks, my company had to quickly purchase, install, and learn how to work with digital video. There are some technical issues that all of the studios and their associates are attempting to figure out. Digital files are extremely high quality and therefore take up a lot of storage space. Studios are buying 100 terabyte hard drives continually and still running out of space. My company deletes all of the client’s files after the project is completed and we own several 100 terabyte hard drives just to temporarily hold projects.
Every company is figuring out how to operate without the standard magnetic tape after the loss of the Japanese plants. Sony is planning to reopen their largest factory later this fall but the big question is, will there be a significant market for tape at that point? (LAWeekly.com) The film industry was already moving towards digital, and now with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in this change, digital is here to stay.
– Amelia M. Torre