Preservation and Digitisation

In 1999, the National Audiovisual Institute, Ina, launched a Preservation and Digitisation Plan for its collections. Eighteen years later, some 1.5 million hours of television and radio have been digitised.

The Preservation and Digitisation Plan (PSN) of Ina’s archives, launched in 1999, focused on the early television and radio collections, as the obsolescence and physical deterioration of certain formats, often unique, threatened their survival. From the outset, the Plan included the photo archives.

At the time, it was estimated that half of the archives were threatened. This amounted to 220,000 hours of television, and 300,000 hours of radio. These figures – already huge – were then revised upwards. In all, the Plan included some 335,000 hours of television and nearly 500,000 hours of radio.

The nature of the threats varied. The chemical deterioration of nitrate film, 16 and 35 mm films, sound tracks affected by a form of decay known as “vinegar syndrome”, and one-inch B video tracks. The physical or mechanical deterioration affects radio disks, films and magnetic radio tapes (deterioration of the editing tape).

In addition, formats become obsolete as do the machines that read 2-inch videotapes, 1-inch C and three-quarter–inch video cassettes. Programmes recorded on to a unique carrier are also particularly vulnerable. This concerns as many as 90% of radio and 60% of television recordings.

Preservation consists in copying the radio or television programme from an older analogue format to a contemporary digital format, to ensure long-term preservation and facilitate its use. Preserving films involves first restoring the film’s mechanical state, e.g. re-doing editing joins or repairing the perforations on the side of film.

Digitisation, meanwhile, consists in transforming (encoding) a document into an IT file, which can be accessed on line on a server. The files are compressed to varying degrees depending on the desired quality: viewing quality or a quality that can be used by professionals.

A race against time

In 2003 and 2004, a major campaign to raise awareness of the imminent threat resulted in additional financing, so that the Plan could be implemented in its entirety at a reasonable pace given the estimated deterioration (i.e. before 2016).

This financing made it possible to appeal to sub-contractors, while at the same time developing a preservation and digitisation system at Ina dedicated to communicating the archives to customers. 

The gradual and systematic digitisation of the collections also led to the rediscovery of forgotten programmes and to opening a direct access to images and sounds. Initially, this was done for professionals, with the website in 2004, and then for the general public, with in 2006.

Meanwhile, new formats and new collections have been included in the initial Plan, such as the RFO archives, and Betacam and audio CDs.

In 2012, over one million hours of programmes had been digitised. Ina began to introduce a digital migration plan, choosing the JPEG 2000 format as the most efficient archival “master”. The aim was to transfer digital Betacam cassettes (539,000) hours from the first wave of preservation to this new format. 

By late 2016, the total volume of hours saved under the Plan had reached 1,396,601 hours, of which 96,992 hours of programmes were stored on film, 289 hours of nitrate film, 707,014 hours of video programmes, 478,600 hours of radio archives transferred from DAT, 78-vinyl disk and 6.25 mm tapes. In addition, 68,997 hours of Radio France audio CDs were digitised, and 113,706 hours of digital Betacam master tapes were transformed into JPEG 2000.

At the end of 2016, the digitisation rate stood at 99% for programmes on film, 92% for nitrate film collections, 63.5% for video and 80.7% for radio (excl. audio CDs).  

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