The Magnetic Media Crisis
The world’s audiovisual heritage is in a moment of crisis. Magnetic media is a time sensitive format, with a predicted life expectancy of between 20 and 30 years. The reality of less-than-ideal environmental conditions mean that the actual lifespan of our magnetic media is much less than that. In a 2018 white paper, the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives announced that “the time… has nearly passed to preserve the millions of videotapes produced from the 1970s to the early 2000s and held in archives around the world.”
Unlike other mediums, such as paper or photographs, magnetic media cannot be stored indefinitely, even in perfect archival conditions. According to the Library of Congress, “optical discs and magnetic tape are made of materials that may have inherent chemical instabilities.” Over time, the data stored on magnetic tape degrades to the point of being effectively destroyed. To compound this problem, very few organizations have retained the equipment necessary for viewing tapes that are more than 20 years old (including U-matic, Betacam, or 1-inch Type C formats). Finally, the technicians who know how to maintain obsolete equipment are also becoming few and far between.
This magnetic media crisis is leaving institutions with thousands of important videotapes languishing in their collections, often inaccessible to the public, and at serious risk of being lost forever. MIPoPS offers services that help heritage institutions digitize videotape and provides tools and advice to help preserve and make video recordings available to researchers and the public.