information for archivists

audio and video digitising, archiving & preservation

Why digitise?

Some of the most important audiovisual archives of the 20th and 21st centuries are stored on magnetic tape.

Often the content of collections remains inaccessible because institutions do not have the appropriate machines to play tapes back on. Older tape can also be extremely vulnerable, making it susceptible to damage in the playback process.

Digitisation helps unlock the potential of magnetic tape collections by offering the double benefits of preservation and accessibility.

There are plenty of other reasons why you should consider re-formatting your magnetic tape collections to digital files:

  • According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), 'it is estimated that we have no more than 10 to 15 years to transfer audiovisual records to digital to prevent their loss.' See also the British Library's Save our Sounds campaign, launched in 2015, which aims to raise awareness of this issue.
  • Key parts in some tape machines are no longer manufactured, especially in video. Many formats are now high risk as machines become difficult to service and repair. The Museum of Obsolete Media Obsolescence Ratings offer a guide to prioritising the migration or preservation of media.
  • Magnetic tape can and does degrade - making playback difficult, risky and sometimes impossible. See the Museum of Obsolete Media Stability Ratings for a useful guide.
  • Magnetic tape can become damaged because of poor storage conditions, leading to mould infestation in some cases.
  • Digital storage space in hard drives, solid state drives or in the cloud has become larger and cheaper.


How can Greatbear help archives digitise their audio and video magnetic tape collections?



Metadata helps us to describe digital resources in a structured way so they can be shared with other people, organisations and between operating systems.

For archives, libraries, museums and learning institutions, creating accurate and project-specific metadata is a crucial part of establishing a successful digital preservation repository. Metadata is becoming increasingly important for those working in professional media production too.

  • We are able to support organisations who need to create metadata as part of their digitisation project.
  • We are able to digitise to, use and edit metadata rich digital files such as Broadcast WAV (BWAV) and the open source MKV container often used with the FFV1 lossless video codec.
As each project is unique and individual, we can adapt our service to correspond with the metadata framework best suited to deliver your collection.


Some of our notable clients

Archives, Libraries, Museums & Universities:

Arnolfini, Bristol
Bath Spa University
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Brampton Museum, Newcastle-under-Lyme
Bristol Archives
British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, University of Kent
Cameron Mackintosh Archive
Cardiff University, Special Collections and Archives
GSK Heritage Archives
Irish Film Archive, Irish Film Institute
Manx Music Festival
National Library of Norway
Open University
Peter Hall Archive
Revealing Voices, Arthur Wood Collection, Potteries Heritage Society
Royal Academy of Dance
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Society of Analytical Psychology
University College London
University of Exeter
University of Huddersfield Archives
University of Kent, Special Collections and Archives
University of St. Andrews
University of Strathclyde, Archives and Special Collections
Video Art Archive, Production Network for Electronic Art, Norway

Artists & Musicians:

Joan Armatrading, musician
Bob, band
Bolt Thrower, band
Bristol Archive Records, record label
Deacon Blue, band
Wayne Hussey, musician
Massive Attack, band
Park Promotions, artist management
Portishead, band
Rose English, artist

Media Companies:

Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation
October Films
Skyline Productions
Sundog Pictures

pile of large square tape boxes in archive warehouse

Bristol Archive audio tape to be digitised

Graphic showing categories: 5 - extinct or very high risk; 4 - endangered or high risk; 3 - threatened or moderate risk; 2 - vulnerable or some risk; 1 - in current use or low risk

Museum of Obsolete Media obsolescence ratings

Man tending to tape machine, surrounded by racks of audio and video machines and monitoring equipment

Adrian cleaning a Studer A80 ¼" open reel tape machine at Greatbear