There are countless hours of film, video and audio content in the archives of public broadcasters, commercial and regional television channels, cultural heritage institutions and performing arts organisations. But these cassettes, film reels and tapes cannot be preserved in their current form forever. And many of these video and audio fragments are already at risk of being lost, for example because their analogue carrier is damaged or the specific playback equipment required is no longer available.
Digitising on a small scale isn’t just expensive, however; specific technical expertise is also necessary. So to make it feasible for organisations, we bundle all this content into projects across sectors and organisations, and look for a suitable digitisation partner for each project. Quality, economies of scale and gains in efficiency are the priorities here. And we’ve already crossed the border between analogue and digital in our rescue mission, so digital signals that are saved on carriers at risk or in unsustainable file formats are also included.
Files that are already digital do not escape the risks. Surely you’ve come across a crashed hard drive before, or old photo files that you can no longer open? Our content partners are susceptible to these same threats. We offer them a solution to these risk: by digitising the content where necessary and saving it in a sustainable file format, we can manage this issue on a large scale.
We keep a record of who has performed each step of the digitisation, when they performed it, what equipment they used, and what the result was. This gives us an overview of the whole process so we can adapt it where necessary.
Digitisation in a nutshell
The process for digitising and preserving audiovisual content is often a complex matter. The clip below summaries the core issues of how we operate at VIAA.
We’ve taken on various digitisation projects since we were founded, whereby we focus on a specific type of carrier – such as VHS, audio cassettes or even wax cylinders – or on digital content from certain partners. The risks involved with a particular type of carrier, and the quantities of this type of carrier stored by our content partners, determine the order that we work in. We always take our partners’ planning and priorities into account for this.
We’ve launched digitisation projects for no fewer than 45 carrier types since 2013. That’s already a lot, but we’re also planning to start digitisation projects for vinyl and XDCAM in the near future. In terms of film, our focus is still currently on cinefilm reels which are under threat (standard 8, super 8, 9.5mm), but there are also a number of projects that require a different approach, such as nitrate films or the film collection from the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), which is on the Flemish Government’s List of Masterpieces. To meet demand from various content partners, since March 2019 we’ve also been researching the possibility of digitising and sustainably preserving photographs.
Do you have any questions about the audiovisual content in your personal archive? We’ve developed a handy website to help you! At knowyourcarrier.com, you can learn how to identify your audiovisual content, discover if it has any heritage value, and find tips for its sustainable preservation and digitisation along with some fun facts – all illustrated with photos.
Would your organisation like to digitise its audiovisual archive?
Find out here what VIAA can do for you.