Storage’s role in entertainment creation/distribution

Increasing resolutions, the move to digital content/distribution, video-on-demand, and digital archiving are driving the need for huge storage capacity and bandwidth.

By Thomas Coughlin

he creation and distribution of entertainment content will be a big driver in the growth of digital storage, and likewise, digital storage will enable new technical achievements in content creation and distribution as well as make digital entertainment ubiquitous in consumer electronics. All elements of this “digital entertainment content value chain” drive every other element. The growth of digital storage in consumer electronics increases demand for the creation and distribution of digital entertainment, and the increase in the availability of digital entertainment content and distribution networks increases the value of digital storage for consumers.

This article is based on data from the 2005 Entertainment Content Creation and Digital Storage Report published by Coughlin Associates (www.tomcoughlin.com).

Content creation

Feature film resolutions are on an upward roll, particularly for the very high end of the market. In the high-end feature film market 2K resolution is common and 4K resolution is becoming more common. The table below compares some metrics for 2K and 4K feature films with a 10-bit file depth.

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Non-linear editing

Modern editing is digital editing. Almost all content creators now use non-linear editing of digitized content and most special effects are done today with digital techniques. This has streamlined the editing process, resulting in faster editing at lower cost.

Non-linear editing is generally done with uncompressed or slightly compressed content since heavy compression increases the overhead of editing and can cause timing problems. The figure below is a schematic of a non-linear editing station showing optional connection to shared online storage via a SAN and host bus adapters (HBAs). For a large facility with several editing chairs, shared storage allows the local disk storage to be kept at about 30 minutes per station. Use of storage networking exists for all non-linear editing market segments, but is more common in the higher-end market segments.

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The high-end segment of the non-linear editing market requires expensive components to support bandwidth and latency requirements for 2K and 4K resolution. Bandwidth requirements for 2K and 4K resolution are shown in the table, below. RAM is often used as a buffer in various parts of non-linear editing systems to reduce the impact of system latencies.

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Content distributionDigital cinema

Digital cinema offers considerable savings to content creators by significantly reducing distribution costs from those of film prints. Distribution of digital theater content is through optical disks, hard disk drives, and possibly high-speed download. The potential savings on digital content distribution to theaters is considerable.

Even with the projected savings for digital distribution there has been considerable resistance from theater owners to install expensive digital projection systems (about $100,000 for a typical installation) and to replace them again in a few years (film projectors, in contrast, can last for decades). Various schemes have been proposed for studios to finance these installations, but these haven’t yet materialized and theater owners object to potential restrictions on their use of subsidized equipment.

Broadcast, satellite, cable, VOD

Broadcast and other forms of digital content distribution use compressed formats to make the best use of limited bandwidth resources. Distribution methods as well as video-on-demand (VOD) will require larger amounts of storage as the digital content resolution increases.

As digital distribution increases, cable operators will expand their VOD offerings. This, and the increasing resolutions, will drive demand for digital storage. The table below shows VOD capacity and bandwidth requirements for standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) digital content. VOD requires that content be ingested as well as played or streamed out. Content is ingested at a rate required to refresh the content in the cache that serves the VOD delivery.

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Preserving digital content and converting historical analog content to digital form will be the single largest driver of digital storage capacity. Much of the storage for archiving will be on removable media such as tape and optical disks that can be put on a shelf or in a library until needed. Digital preservation allows content to be available for research and distribution. Future content businesses will be based on the availability of vast amounts of historical digital content.

Many major digital conversion and preservation efforts are underway worldwide. For example, there are very large libraries of material being converted to digital archives, such as the 100,000-hour CNN library. Other examples of stock material at major networks include

  • ABC: 1,037,000 films/tapes
  • CBS: 1,045,000 tapes and more than 150,000,000 feet of film
  • NBC: 600,000 film reels (currently estimated at 100,000,000 feet) and 1,600,000 videotapes

Materials accumulated by major studios include the following:

  • Disney: 6,500 TV programs on 80,000 reels and tapes
  • Fox: 54,000 TV programs on 780,000 reels/tapes
  • MCA/Universal: 18,000 (through 1994) TV programs on 217,000 reels/tapes
  • Paramount (Viacom): 8,000 TV programs on 1,200,000 reels/tapes
  • Sony/Columbia: 35,000 TV programs on 600,000 reels/tapes
  • Turner Entertainment: 20,000 TV programs on 337,000 reels/tapes
  • Warner Brothers: 28,000 TV programs on 1,000,000 reels/tapes

One of the biggest issues for archiving is the obsolescence of the storage media technology. Tapes or optical disks get out-dated and if the digital content that they contain is not transferred to new media it will be difficult to preserve, cannot be easily read, and likely will be lost.

As the size of the digital archive increases it will become more difficult to transfer digital content fast enough to preserve that content. The real issue will become having sufficient bandwidth to convert from old media to new media. Archiving will not be a static process. Format conversion of large data stores may eventually require almost continuous transfer operations. When the archive load becomes too large choices will have to be made about which content to transfer and preserve on the new format.


The figure below shows capacity growth for the digital conversion and preservation segment of the market, as well as capacity growth in other segments. Between 2004 and 2010 we expect a 900-fold increase in the required digital storage capacity shipments per year (from 1,695,718TB to 15,379,677TB).

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The greatest storage capacity demand is for digital conversion and preservation as well as archiving of new content (archiving and preservation). The creation of feature movies, broadcast production, and episodic content is the next largest category (acquisition). Content editing, compositing, and special effects (editing) is the third largest category followed by content distribution. As can be seen in the figure below (top), 90% of the total capacity will be used for content archiving in 2004.

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However, by 2010 significant progress will have been made in digital conversion and preservation as well as archiving. As shown in the figure above (bottom), decreasing demand for conversion and archiving and the growth of higher resolution content creation will shift capacity demand so content acquisition and preservation will each use almost half of the total storage capacity.

Archiving will also drive the growth of storage media. In 2004, we estimate that 60% of the total storage media shipped for all the digital entertainment content segments was tape, with 40% on optical disks, as shown in the figure above (top). By 2010 the change in segment demand will also change the mix in digital storage media. That figure also shows that by 2010 tape should decrease to 41%, optical disks to 55%, with hard disk drives comprising a 4% market share.

Tom Coughlin is president of Coughlin Associates (www.tomcoughlin.com), a data storage consulting firm. He contributes to reports from Peripheral Research and Peripheral Concepts and is a co-organizer of the Network Storage Conference and Storage Visions conferences.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2005