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The Tape -Time is running out

You’ve read the headlines: “Last known VCR maker stops production”. You know you need to digitize your video content. But you’re busy. There’s always something more important to do… better ways to spend your budget. The urgency doesn’t feel real.

But what if something forced your hand? Let’s say, you needed a vital piece of archived content, or… horror of horrors, you noticed your video tapes deteriorating?

You could be faced with a mammoth task, at great expense. Or worse—find out it’s too late to digitize your content.

According to UNESCO, this could soon become a familiar story. They estimate that 200 million hours of irreplaceable audiovisual content are at risk of being lost forever. In fact, if we don’t step up our game, 50% of that could disappear within just 10 to 15 years.  How’s that for urgency?

It’s no surprise then, that the European Commission is urging EU Member States to get a move on. And by funding projects like TAPE and PrestoSpace, they hope to assist the preservation of Europe’s 50 million hours of audiovisual heritage.

Several Dutch organisations have already bulk digitised 90,000 hours of video and 20,000 of film.  The positive impact is evident. Public access has increased dramatically and re-use of the content is delivering huge cultural and financial benefits to the archives and their partners.

So what’s keeping the rest of us?

The race toward large-scale digitization

A TAPE survey shows this urgency is yet to ripple across Europe. Of 374 audiovisual collections, almost 90% have VHS in their collections. One large broadcaster holds 200,000 Panasonic D3 tapes, another has 10,000 one-inch tapes. A music theatre institute holds 2,000 laserdiscs and a governmental organization mentioned 1040 hours of video 2000 recordings.

Yet very few have a preservation strategy.

If even these large institutions with national responsibilities are struggling, what hope for the countless treasured collections locked away in businesses and buried deep in archives, sporting institutions and small, but significant private collections?

Time is running out. We need to #GetDigitizing. Before it’s too late.

Here’s why.

Your tapes are degrading

Despite numerous studies about tape longevity, there is no accurate way of estimating a tape’s life expectancy. Different brands and formats will respond differently to tape handling, number of recordings and playback conditions.

Experts estimate video tape has a lifespan of 30 years. That’s in optimum conditions. So that ‘30 year’ life expectancy could well be more like 10.  Which is why many businesses don’t realise they’ve got a problem, until their tapes have already begun to degrade.

If they have—and the 8 year old TAPE survey suggests that was at least 13% of collections at the time, no doubt many more now—they could damage good equipment. Which means professional restoration may be needed; stalling, or even stopping your preservation strategy altogether.

Most people are aware of the effects of temperature and humidity on the life expectancy of video. Yet over half of those surveyed with collections of 5,000 hours or less, don’t use climate controlled storage. The same goes for a whopping 25% of specialist audiovisual institutions.

So what’s happening?

Preserving video requires specialist skills. Most owners of archived video content simply don’t have this at their fingertips.  Volunteers or untrained staff may find themselves entrusted with equipment once managed by trained (and long retired) technicians.

But while more and more businesses realise degradation is a real and present challenge, it’s clear the greatest risk for video collections lies in the loss of playback equipment.

The mass extinction of VTR

These days, it’s nigh on impossible to find working VTRs for some of the older video formats. From VHS to U-Matic to One Inch Analogue—all tape based formats created in the 20th century are now obsolete.

This mass extinction isn’t helped by a vast catalogue of video formats and machines; the result of ludicrously fast technological developments and economic wars between manufacturers throughout the 80’s and 90’s.

As each format rolled off the production line—each incompatible with the previous and requiring a specific machine for playback—it was quickly superseded by the next.  This led to a proliferation of VTR’s from Sony, Philips, Ampex, Panasonic, Thompson, Matsushita… and an incredible array of formats.

Today, all but the biggest institutions and businesses still have properly functioning equipment. And without playback machines, the transfer of all these millions of hours of video content simply isn’t possible.

Elsewhere, pretty much all this equipment has disappeared from the market. Manufacturers no longer produce, nor support them. Tape heads are finite. Spare parts impossible to find.  Plus, the growing lack of expertise to operate, fix and maintain them, draws into focus long-term management issues.

Are you sitting on a pot of gold?

We’ve talked about the value of safeguarding and preserving important social and cultural data, but what about the monetization side of things?

Broadcasters are ahead of the pack, already digitising huge volumes of their video archive footage to create new revenue streams. Like the movie studio CTO, who unexpectedly unearthed a film from storage, digitally remastered it, then released it… only for it to make the Amazon best seller list—they understand the potential value of long-term storage.

Collected over a lifetime, who’s to say there aren’t hidden gems currently rotting away within your business or organisation? As the world’s insatiable appetite for content grows stronger, yesterday’s video might be hugely valuable today and tomorrow.

In essence, video tape that is not digitized within the next ten years will in many cases be lost forever. It is inescapable and urgent.

You may have thousands of hours of video content that could be expensive and time consuming to digitize. But the expense of not taking action? Likely far greater. Not taking action guarantees the loss of both commercially viable and culturally important content, as well as any investment you’ve made to date, in creating it and maintaining it.

How Imagen can help

Don’t leave your video to rot on the shelves. We can help…

Imagen manages media for some of the world’s biggest brands, preserving large collections of video for the long term and enabling controlled access and distribution through a secure, scalable, highly customizable web platform.

Featuring powerful ingest workflows and full asset management, Imagen Enterprise Video Platform provides a convenient and cost-effective way to manage and monetize content without the need for hardware expenditure and hosting expertise. Imagen delivers a premium performance for premium content – allowing customers to search entire video libraries in seconds, playback proxies, create edits, run workflows and download high resolution content. Content can be indexed via automatic audio transcript generation and advanced user analytics are available for insight into audience engagement.

Imagen’s new Global Distribution Network feature brings broadcast quality content closer to high importance clients by automatically replicating large libraries of media to hundreds of strategic global locations using public cloud infrastructure. It is now economically viable to monetize content across multiple territories in multiple ways; delivering a subscription-based VOD platform to a consumer audience, while catering to production and broadcast partners’ high-resolution needs.

Award winning Imagen keeps your media safe for the long term, engages your audience and maximizes the full value of your video.

Prepare your media for a digital future and unlock the value in your video library

Imagen’s content onboarding programme includes tape encoding, bulk file ingest and cataloguing of small and large collections of media.

Ian Mottashed

Ian Mottashed

Ian is one of the longest-standing members of the Imagen (formerly Cambridge Imaging Systems) story. Our VP Marketing, not content with everything else he has to coordinate, somehow also manages to find time to lend his hand to a blog post or two.

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