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4 important points to consider so you don't endure a digitisation fail like Fairfax Media.


by Adam Hodgkinson


A recent article sheds light on the dubious nature of some digitisation service providers. Fairfax Media recently sent a collection of 8 million still image assets to the US to be digitised, but things have not gone to plan. 


It's worth reflecting on the outsourcing of digitisation. Firstly, I think it is fair to say that it is unrealistic to think that all organisations have the in-house capabilities or resources needed to digitise their audiovisual media internally. To achieve results that deliver you a collection that is preserved in line with global best-practice standards, so your collection is future proofed (within the bounds of what we know today), or provide a collection that is transmission-ready and available to be monetised, or to ensure you get the best possible representation of the source content so that the end consumer gets a great viewing or listening experience, requires specialised skills and infrastructure. It requires a diverse range of legacy technology, because, for example, you need a different video deck for each different format you have and broad ranging digital technology to meet the needs of encoding, rigorous quality control and archiving.


Therefore, in light of the challenges facing legacy AV media collections, outsourcing some or all digitisation of your videotape, audiotape and motion picture film will, in most cases, be the only viable solution. 


There is no point hiding the fact that there are risks associated with outsourcing. Risks can arise from a vendor’s failure to deliver, such as the case with Fairfax. Or less obvious risks, such as the creation of corrupt or incorrect digital files that jeopardise the integrity of a collection, errors which may not be discovered until sometime into the future  (depending on skills, technology and time, quality checks may take some time, even years in some cases leading to errors not being detected until it’s too late). 


There are actions you can take to mitigate risk. Here are 4 points to consider when choosing a digitisation partner:


  • 1. Cost benefit - while we all work to a budget, and we want to get the most out of our budget, lowest price is not always the best option. While you may get more videotapes digitised, the resulting quality and flexibility may be compromised. As a result, while you invest in low cost options today and get more media digitised, you may have to go through the entire process again in the future because you didn't achieve what was needed to future proof your content. So, it’s false economy to just go on price.


  • 2. Depth and breadth of service - your desired outcomes should not be limited by the capability of the service provider. Make sure your digitisation partner supports the breadth of audiovisual formats, and can deliver the depth of digital outcomes available, not just sell you a limited service offering that some providers are limited to. For example, in preservation of digital video, uncompressed is sold by some as the only way to go, this is because they don't offer alternatives, where as Lossless JPEG2000 is a default standard preservation format for many Australian collecting institutions, and for many reasons offers advantages over uncompressed. Whichever way you go, make sure your partner offers a depth and breadth of service so they can offer unbiased recommendations. Make sure you have a choice.


  • 3. Experience - look at the people who have gone before you. You don’t have to be a pioneer and this minimises the risk. If a vendor’s experience is based on digitising wedding videos or other retail style offerings and you are a library seeking preservation outcomes, chances are that vendor is not the right partner for you. Look for a partner that is being used by a range customers types - from small to large. And look at the calibre of the customers; are they servicing leaders in the respective industries, like national collecting institutions and broadcasters? 


  • 4. Knowledge - knowledge is something that is gained through experience. Whether it is knowing what brand of Betacam tape should be matched with which model VTR to get optimal replay, or how a file needs to be assessed in a file-based QC workflow to ensure it is broadcast legal, that knowledge is paramount to ensuring the success of a digitisation project, large or small. Make sure the team you choose to partner with can draw on vast experiences to inform you of best practice.


Videotape, audiotape and film all have a shelf life, which is quickly approaching expiry. This means it is crunch time for making strategic decisions about digitising your valuable media archive. Whether you have a small or large collection make sure you do your due diligence and choose an outsourcing partner. 


All organisations have valuable content, commercial or cultural, and they all want to make the most of their digitisation investment, so take the time to choose the right reliable partner to ensure your content is future ready.