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View from the Top: Lance Podell, Iron Mountain

Lance Podell, senior vice president/general manager of Iron Mountain Entertainment Services, shares how the storage and information management giant is making assets more secure yet more accessible than ever before.

Lance Podell

Founded in 1951, Iron Mountain has long been at the forefront—the peak, if you will—of storage and information management services. Iron Mountain comprises more than 1,450 facilities around the world totaling more than 90 million square feet serving more than 225,000 organizations, from major corporations and financial entities to noted private citizens.

Many of the assets Iron Mountain stores, preserves and in some cases restores are from the entertainment world. While much of that is media—master tapes, films, photos, video reels and the like—there’s also wardrobe, sets, personal memorabilia and far more. The one thing all the items have in common is that they are valuable, whether fiscally or on a personal level.

“All content creators have emotional connections to their creations,” observed Lance Podell, the recently appointed senior vice president and general manager of Iron Mountain Entertainment Services (IMES). He would know; while his background in media and entertainment involves ad agencies, ad tech and online video programming, the job he held prior to joining IMES, global director of YouTube Spaces, allowed him to witness the passion that goes into modern-day digital storytelling firsthand. “We built and ran studios around the world to invest in YouTube creators—great storytellers native to the digital space and those joining the digital space from more traditional entertainment.”

While much of YouTube’s content is reactionary to a given cultural moment, IMES’ remit often regards content for the long haul, helping ensure its place in the cultural conversation for, ideally, eternity. “I was hooked on the opportunity to lead IMES in the middle of a conversation with one of our accomplished audio engineers,” said Podell. “As he described his day-to-day work restoring master recordings of the music that my parents shared with me—Motown, classic rock—I immediately understood the risk that some of our most beloved content may not be playable for our children, and their children. I realized that these iconic works are critical to defining generations of our collective past, understanding social context, and supporting our children’s understanding of history. It also became abundantly clear that these libraries of music, film, historical sporting moments and iconic brand media—remember ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke,’—still have an active role in our present-day enjoyment. In fact, there is still quite a lot of life and potential revenue in these classic assets—songs such as ‘Sweet Caroline,’ which, because of thoughtful preservation strategy, enjoys more widespread airplay today than when it was released 50 years ago.”

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There are plenty of hurdles to be overcome in the process of making that happen, of course. Sometimes it means getting creatives to see the larger picture, he noted. “My vision is that soon content creators of all types—musicians, actors, producers, directors, brands, sport organizations, broadcasters—will understand the urgency of properly preserving their creations, and will trust IMES to serve them with continually relevant solutions to preserve both original analog and digital content, and to help unlock the value in that content so that future generations can enjoy it.”

A greater obstacle, however, is the race against time to protect and preserve media while it’s still accessible. “Iron Mountain’s services have never been more relevant to content creators, especially those with media assets on physical tape and hard drives. We are seeing significant physical deterioration across many of those formats,” he noted. “IMES is now extending its core offerings of physical media storage and digital transformation by bringing new, complementary services to the market that further unlock the value of our clients’ archives, and provide them instantaneous and permanent access to those priceless assets in the future—for sharing, distribution or personal safekeeping.”

To that extent, IMES now has more than 200 employees throughout numerous locations. Podell himself is based in the New York area. Additionally, Iron Mountain has purpose-built facilities for media storage and digitization in Hollywood, CA, Chicago, IL, Boyers, PA, Nashville, TN, Toronto, ON, London and Paris, and the company has an eye toward expanding to other entertainment capitals around the world. “Our digital studios are staffed with audio, film, video and still image production professionals to whom our largest global clients, including film studios and music labels, entrust their most fragile assets for preservation, digitization and digital storage,” said Podell. “Our storage operations teams are physical archive experts, with deep experience in designing custom solutions that are appropriate for the contents being stored, whether it’s physical media, musical instruments, sheet music, wardrobe, sets, awards or fine art.”

The fact that IMES handles such a variety of assets for the music, film and broadcast sectors isn’t lost on entities from outside of those markets; Podell notes that they’re seeing a growing need and demand from sports teams/organizations, ad agencies, brands and individuals looking to preserve their legacies. “The foundational elements of our services—physical storage and vaults, digitization, and digital storage and asset management—are delivered end-to-end with complete chain of custody that is routinely trusted by organizations with the most sensitive and fragile assets in the world: governments, healthcare organizations, financial institutions—and media and entertainment organizations,” noted Podell.

Of course, a major concern for any entity storing its assets—for instance, thousands of master tapes—is that yes, the items may be safe and preserved, but how much of a hassle will it be to access those items and put them to use when necessary? IMES has been taking new approaches to those perennial concerns as of late.

Podell offered, “Iron Mountain InSight is a product developed in partnership with Google that enables content owners to significantly enrich their metadata through artificial intelligence/machine learning, which in turn makes their archives searchable in ways that were previously not possible. Features such as facial recognition, image recognition, speech to text, and optical character recognition mean that, for music archives, for example, archivists can automate the reading and categorization of thousands of handwritten notes and labels on vintage tapes and boxes—and then conduct instantaneous searches for specific artists, titles or formats that previously would have taken days or weeks to complete.”

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Also of note, he said, is the company’s Digital Content Repository (DCR), a managed digital storage solution specifically designed for the ingest, retrieval, and long-term preservation of digitized and born-digital media creations such as music, film and broadcasts, providing clients with working access to their digital archives, with full searchability and worldwide distribution capabilities. Further work is also underway with technology companies in the global M&E sector to develop a digital asset management platform that integrates InSight and DCR to provide an all-encompassing, searchable view of an organization’s global content inventory.

IMES is in a unique position as it, like the mind itself, is designed to look backward and then recontextualize elements from the past to help create the future. For Podell, it’s something of a calling: “My career has been built on serving content creators and entertainers by providing them with offline and then digital platforms and services to ensure their life’s work can be enjoyed widely by global audiences. Now I am fortunate enough to play a key role in ensuring these works, costumes and other iconic memorabilia are safely secured and that media from all formats can now be archived and digitized correctly.”

Iron Mountain •