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What's the biggest problem with running an archive media transfer facility?

For ITV Content Delivery it’s ensuring we have the ability and the resources to transfer content that was captured on tape many decades ago.

The issue is that every piece of equipment we buy as a broadcaster has a life expectancy, and over the years as standards change, new equipment is released to meet changing expectations. That’s fine for contemporary programming; every new programme that gets commissioned will be made to the standards required and expected for today’s audience.

But programmes made in the 1960’s/70’s/80’s will only reflect the quality and standards that were present at the time.

In the past when new formats were introduced to the broadcasting community, it was very much as case of out with the old and in with the new. And here lies the problem. Old kit was thrown out to accommodate the newer technology, which has left some archives exposed.

By definition, an archive is something that documents the past, very much like a time capsule. And a media archive will typically hold content on formats that predate the current standards. If you want to access content recorded in the past you will need a working machine suitable to the tape format the content is held on.

Think about trying to play a Super Nintendo game cartridge in the Switch console. You couldn’t. More importantly, and to take the game console analogy further, if your Super Nintendo broke, it would be very difficult, if not impossible to get spare or replacement parts from Nintendo as that console is no longer being manufactured, its life expectancy reached and replaced by different generations of technology. You could have a shelf full of perfectly playable games, but no means of actually playing them.

In broadcast terms, you could have an archive full of content on legacy tape formats such as 1”, D-2 and U-Matic (other legacy tape formats are available!), but without access to a working machine you would have no way of viewing, sharing or commercially exploiting the material.

At ITV Content Delivery, we have a large variety of working legacy tape decks, (as well as the only two Vintage Cloud Steenbecks in the country) and several rooms dedicated to storing serviceable machines ready to be cannibalised for spare parts when our machines need repairing.

This week we have also taken stock of a new (to us at least), working U-Matic, further improving our resiliency for future transfers on this format.

So if you have any content locked away on a legacy tape format now is definitely the time to get it digitised before decks like U-Matic become obsolete.

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