Case for Digital Archiving

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Case for Digital Archiving

Why is that television broadcasting, a product of the 20th century, has many of its shows, broadcasts and productions gone missing, lost or destroyed ?

Early television broadcasts were often live and were not recorded. Top that with the fact that many broadcasts, including shows, news, dramas, plays, talk shows, dailies and soaps, even when recorded were dumped to free storage space!

Many of the tapes and videos were often reused to record new shows and broadcasts. And not to forget the innumerable broadcasts destroyed over the years, subjected to technical degradation and obsolescence. Early television was frequently programmed live because there was limited access to recording technology and content was not always deemed to hold cultural or historical value. Even when Kinescope made recording more viable, shows were recorded far and between. Many were partially recorded. With the coming of the magnetic tape in 1956, recording and reruns became more accessible. But television tapes were still being largely subjected to disposal, wiping and reusing. The venture of home video in 1970-80s made it economically viable for studios to record television broadcasts for resell and reruns.

Digital Archiving values content. It values and retains content, ensuring accessibility, reuse and continued monetization. Digitally retrieving and restoring broadcasts, preserves them for future consumptions and monetization, besides retaining the cultural and historical value of the content. Here’s a look at some of the famous lost/missing television broadcasts, reaffirming the indispensability of digital archiving and preservation, back then and now.

The Eddy-Go-Round Show, a Dutch broadcast, survives only in few odd episodes. The Dutch series was largely erased and wiped from the master tapes. A clip featuring the Swedish pop band, ABBA and another hosting the Scottish rock band, Marmalade, are the short sections still surviving. Eddy Becker himself held copies of a few episodes, which were retrieved, restored and broadcasted in 2012.

Countdown an Australian music television show created by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ran in 1974-87. The show received nationwide broadcast and is still considered to be the best musical programs on Australian television. Wiping and reusing of tapes was an established practice at ABC, and a significant number of episodes from the Countdown, were destroyed.

Madhouse on Castle Street, a 1963 british show, by BBC was junked despite featuring popular names including Bob Dylan and David Warner. It was Dylan’s acting debut and featured his song Blowin in the wind during credit roll. Though an extensive search was made to retrieve the tapes, no substantial recoveries were made. Snippets of the audio recordings of Dylan’s songs, images, still shots, scripts, of the play have been salvaged over the years.

Starlight, one of the earliest BBC shows, was broadcasted in the 1930s. One of the first variety shows in the world, it hosted a number of entertainment acts, including comedy, plays and dance. The show was transmitted live, with only a few still shots and images surviving. The show was the television debut of the famous actor/singer Gracie Fields.

Upstairs Downstairs, the predecessor of the iconic Downton Abbey, remains as popular as the contemporary show. Though the 1970 show survives, the original episodes shot in black and white, do not. Just as the color transition hit the industry, the unions demanded a hike in pay for the use of color cameras. In that interval, the initial episodes of the first series were made in black and white. With production in color resuming, the monochrome episodes were wiped by the studio.

Mary Kay and Johnny, the first televison sitcom in the US, was a comedy situated around the life of a married couple. The first few series of the DuMont production, were aired live and were not recorded, while the post 1948 episodes were recorded on Kinescopes. The tapes were subsequently disposed, and only few later portions of the show survive.

Doctor Who, a popular science fiction show, had many of its episodes between 1960s and 1970s wiped. The reasons varied. From the broadcasting rights on reruns expiring to the lack of archiving capacity at BBC film library, a number of copies ended up being junked by BBC. Subsequent efforts at retrieval and restoration, have led to the recovery of a couple of the missing episodes, yet there are glaring gaps in the series.

A For Andromeda a 1961 science-fiction that starred Julie Christie in her debut role, also became victim to junking. The story was developed by noted astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle. Except for one copy of the sixth  episode, retrieved from private collection, a few tele-snaps and some clips, the series is more or less extinct.

Contemporary television is largely recorded. Most studios have their storage facilities. With proliferation of home media, recording and digital streaming, television broadcasts has longer shelf life. Yet, the master prints and originals are never far from succumbing to format obsolescence and media degradation. As scratches, blurs, black patches and missing frames begin to deteriorate and destroy the archives, it is an absolute imperative to retrieve, restore and preserve. Whatever the reasons, from storage to budget to value, Digital Archiving is the one stop solution. Digital archiving facilitates value retention, accessibility and quality of your content.

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