Sync: A spoken word says more than a thousand tapes

Thought Equity Motion launched a search tool that allows filmmakers to search for material based on the spoken word. Miguel Gonzalez spoke with CEO Kevin Schaff.

According to Schaff, the stock footage market has traditionally been limited by the lack of a deep, real time search. “The frustration for filmmakers, particularly in the documentary world, is that they have to spend a lot of time and energy to find clips online, but the selection is usually limited, or the clips are not available in full.

“Their other alternative has been to put a research request in so that someone will go through and spend days, even weeks or months looking for the right footage. The downside in taking so long to find reference tapes is that you’re usually still working off of metadata, which only brings out results based on the key topics that someone associated with the material. You don’t get the full context,” says Schaff from the company’s global headquarters in Denver, Colorado.

Instead of depending on key words, Thought Equity Motion has created a system that does the search based on the words actually spoken in the archived material. The Research Store tool took one and a half years and U$10 million to develop; it allows users to type in a search topic, and the system will list every moment on every clip where that word is mentioned. “The system uses phonetic technology developed by Nexedia; an engine that actually ‘listens’ to all the digitally mastered tapes in our system to create a phonetic index, with an accuracy rate of 98 per cent. It also recognises words in 22 languages,” Schaff said.

The phonetic index is stored in the system so that users can do a real time search. Schaff explains that there is also a ‘context server’. “It puts your search into context so that not only do you get the words that you’re looking for, but also the context around the topic to build your story. It shortens the production time by weeks; in the beta phase many people found a much bigger breadth of material than they originally hoped to find, and they could do in seconds what usually takes no less than two weeks for even the most experienced research teams to provide the material.”

Filmmakers can then cut in real time the different segments they’ll require for their project, and download the selected material only –which is mastered, stored and available for download in 2K, instead of just a low resolution reference clip that still requires users to get the physical tape.

New material is being indexed during the digital master process. Not all of the company’s five million hours of content has been phonetically indexed, but Schaff says the ‘most popular’ material is available in the Research Store. “The material is almost exclusively editorial-based content, because that’s our intended market. We have a Hollywood studios library of about 25,000 hours of celebrities; we have National Geographic and the historical news reel March of Time and NBC collections, as well as HBO and sports content including Australia’s NRL.”

The system is now online and the company expects that 10,000 users in Australia and other countries will adopt it in the first year to access material from their 1,000+ content providers.


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