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Here are the top 3 factors to consider when prioritising for video digitisation.


by Adam Hodgkinson


The size of investment required to take on a video digitisation projects can grow into many thousand dollars, and that kind of funding isn’t always easy to come by. At the same time, video collections aren’t getting any younger. So, rather than an all or nothing approach it could be worth considering tackling your video digitisation project in chunks based on priority. Working out a priority list of which assets are more valuable can be challenging. So, here are 3 factors to base your selection criteria are:


1. Condition of the media;

2. The age of the format;

3. The value to stakeholders.


Condition should be a key factor in determining priority. If any of your media is showing signs of degradation, this part of your collection should be considered in your priority list. If magnetic media is showing signs of mould build-up or sticky-shed syndrome then these assets should be given high priority for digitisation. Mould on the tape will affect the recording surface leaving scarring, and will in turn affect the quality of the digitised content. Sticky-shed syndrome can render magnetic media redundant as the binder falls apart. For film, the most common and largest issue is vinegar syndrome. Vinegar syndrome is a chemical breakdown of the film and once it has set in there is no reversing it. So, if you have films that smell like a packet of salt and vinegar chips when you open the can, get that can to the top of your list. If you don’t prioritise media based on condition, it can be a futile effort looking to hold on to media as when you come to digitise, the media may not yield successful results.


Technology obsolescence is a real concern for audiovisual collection custodians. With this in mind, consider the older formats in your collection as a potential priority. VTRs for all video formats are fast becoming obsolete, difficult to acquire, support and maintain. The further you go back in time, the more challenging this issue becomes. Take 2-inch video for example; this the oldest of the video formats and it is played back on a machine that is reminiscent of mainframe computer and the operation of the VTR is a totally manual affair. To playback a 2-inch tape requires specialist knowledge to operate and maintain the equipment, as well equipment that ceased being produced over 40 years ago. All this points towards limited and shrinking services options to digitise 2-inch. The same can be said for 1” and U-matic. And while it is not a desperate situation for some of the more contemporary formats, it won’t be long before the availability of equipment and skills starts to make the cost of digitising your AV collection increasingly expensive. That said, given the challenges facing the technology and skills that support early AV formats, putting the older formats into the priority mix will ensure that you can recover the content most economically. 


The third criteria and probably the most important, is the value of the content to the organisation. If you have content that is either of significant cultural or commercial value, then these assets should be considered in your priority list. Digitising high value assets ensures the security of the content for the long-term. The content can then be used to potentially make a return on investment if the content is of commercial value, or if it is culturally significant access for the public, researchers and so on can be achieved to ensure the content can be shared. Importantly, it can play a key role in gaining future funding for digitisation projects, as stakeholders have something tangible to see.


Considering these 3 criteria can help you in making those though decisions as your organisation embarks on a video digitisation project.