Around the world, billions of hours of video footage are sitting on shelves or in archives. Most of it may be of very limited interest, but some of it is a vital part of our cultural history. This footage is under threat from two sides: not only is the tape that the recordings are stored on degrading, but the machines required to play them back are slowly disappearing
The pace of technological change moves ever faster and as we gleefully grab hold of the next shiny gadget we sometimes forget about our older toys. Since the 1960's video has been recorded onto magnetic tape in a bewildering array of formats and although a lot of it has been destroyed or recorded over there are still billions of hours of footage sitting on shelves in archives, post houses and peoples homes. In 2008 the Training for Audiovisual Preservation in Europe Project asked 374 libraries how much material their archives contained. The total was 8.8 million hours!
Physically the recordings on these tapes are deteriorating, depending on the storage conditions the tape itself may break down and the strength of the magnetic fields in the particles will fade and can be affected by electrical and magnetic interference.
But this is not the only problem, many of the recording formats are unique and can only be played back on the particular type of recorder that they were originally recorded on. Many of the older recorders have not been manufactured for decades and spare parts for the ones that do survive are getting harder and harder to find.