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2.4 Guidelines for establishing and maintaining television programme archives

Anne Hanford, Chairman History and Archives Specialist Group April 1992. The Royal Television Society


Television programme material is valuable both in terms of commercial exploitation, and as an irreplaceable social record. Neglect of material in the earlier stages of the operation of television organisations in the past has led to the loss of irreplaceable material, the commercial, social and cultural significance of which was not appreciated until some time after the event. These guidelines are intended to prevent possible future losses and to assist in the planning of an appropriate framework for establishing and maintaining collections of material according to recognised principles.

The term 'archive' is perhaps inappropriate for the nature of the service required by a television organisation. Another frequently used term 'library' - is also inadequate. However, whatever term is chosen, the overriding function of the service must be to provide for the operational requirements of the parent organisation, while ensuring that the material is preserved and available for longer term purposes. Material may eventually be devolved to another body more responsible for these responsibilities, such as the National Film Archive in Great Britain which has become the designated body to maintain a national television archive under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1990, Section 185.

1. definition of the policy and purposes.

1.1 The first essential is to define the policy and purposes of the programme archive, taking into account such issues as the ownership of the material, the requirements of the actual and potential users and the timescale of the likely retention of the material. In this latter respect, consideration must be given to the physical and technical requirements imposed by long storage periods. It is important that the following aspects are considered at the earliest possible stage, and certainly well in advance of the first broadcast.

2. recording of all output

2.1 In the UK, the Broadcasting Act 1990 specifies that each broadcasting body must retain a copy of all its transmitted output for a period of 90 days, in case a copy is required by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (Section 145(5)), the Broadcasting Standards Council (Section 155(3)) of a Justice of the Peace (Section 167(1)). These recordings may be made on non-broadcast standard formats. It is also necessary to retain a broadcast standard recording of all programmes to enable subsequent selection for re-transmission, commercial exploitation and archival retention.

2.2 It is particularly important to ensure that programmes which consist of a mixture of prerecorded and live material are recorded in their entirety off-air. Examples of this type of output are news bulletins and magazine programmes.

3. storage

3.1 Material must be stored in secure, environmentally controlled premises to ensure its survival for current and long-term purposes. These areas should be free of such hazards as water and heating pipes and have a high level of protection against fire. The recommended conditions for the various media are as follows:


3.2 It has been established, as a result of research by various reputable bodies, that environmental control is essential to prolong the survival of all types of film - particularly colour. In general, the lower the temperature, the slower the dye fading process. The very low temperature recommended by the International Federation of Film Archives, for colour master material, - 5EC (23EF) relative humidity of 15%-30%, provides for the best long term storage. However, these conditions are not normally appropriate for television organisations which may require quick access for copying, and cannot allow sufficient time for acclimatisation. A compromise between providing for maximum survival and reasonable accessibility is recommended:

Short Term (i.e. up to 10 years)
Maximum temperature: 21EC (70EF) Relative Humidity: 25%-60%

Long Term Storage
Temperature: 11-15EC (50-60EF) Relative Humidity: 40%-60%

Videotape and Videocassettes

3.3 Videotape can deteriorate in two respects, by electronic faults eg. print through of the sound signal, and physically, eg.. coating becoming detached from the base, warping, cinching, edge damage, etc. Very much less information, both practical and experimental, is available on storage conditions for videotape than for film. This particularly applies to the more recent formats using metal particle tape. The current recommendations are 17-23EC (65-75EF), Relative Humidity 30%-45%.

3.4 Videotape should not be stored close to sources emitting strong magnetic fields. Fluorescent lighting is a possible source and spools should be at least 45cms (18") from this source.


3.5 Metal racking has proved safe for the storage of both film and tape. Film material which is unlikely to be moved frequently, such as master material, should be stored in a horizontal position. Film in frequent use may be stored vertically for more convenient operational access. Videotape should be stored vertically in its appropriate container. Mobile racking, although itself more costly, permits the maximum use of storage areas.

4. handling material

4.1 Storage and handling areas must be secure and accessible only to authorised staff. Activities which may cause damage to the material, i.e. smoking, eating and drinking, should be prohibited in the area, which should be dust-free. Master material should be stored separately from duplicates, copies, etc., and not in the same building or closely adjacent site.


4.2 Only one reel of film should normally be stored in one can of appropriate dimensions. All reels should have the ends secured to prevent the film unwinding in the can. Film should always be kept on spools or cores. The master material should be handled only by properly trained staff, on well maintained equipment, preferably within the archive area.

Videotape, and cassettes

4.3 Tapes should not be dropped or subjected to other mechanical shock. They should be played on properly adjusted machines in the environmental conditions recommended for storage. Any environmental variation in transit between storage and handling areas should be minimised. A period of acclimatisation should take place within the handling area to allow for the effects of transit conditions.

4.4 Staff operating the machines must be trained and familiar with the best handling practices designed to prevent damage to the tape. The common practice of placing paper documents in tape boxes should be avoided. Ideally, transmission standard copies of important videotape programmes should be made to protect the original from loss or damage. All film, videotape and cassettes should be clearly labelled with details of contents, including technical information such as gauge, format etc.

Preservation of Material

4.5 Use of the master material should be kept to a minimum to prolong the life of a reel or spool. If it is envisaged that many copies of the programme will required, eg. for sale or distribution, a duplicating master should be made from the original for copying purposes. Ideally, any copying from the master should be carried out under controlled conditions in the archive premises.

4.6 Some video formats are already becoming obsolete, and others will become so in the future. It is necessary for a policy decision to be taken on the selection of the obsolete holdings for transfer to a new format which has the optimum life expectancy. Transfer of the material must be completed before the obsolete equipment becomes unserviceable for play-back.

5. documentation

5.1 A comprehensive, professionally designed information system is an essential part of a television programme archive. It should be computer-based and, ideally, related to other computer systems within the organisation. In older organisations, it may be necessary to consider the conversion of earlier manual systems to the currently used computer systems. There are two main elements required within the system: stock control and information retrieval. The stock control element registers the existence, format, location and movement of material. The information retrieval element makes it possible to search the content of the programme material by subject, personalities and other editorial factors.

Stock Control Systems

5.2 Stock control systems must provide essential information on each reel, spool, cassette, etc., received and retained by the archive. The information will include: title, which component of the programme/recording, version, technical details, duration, recording and transmission dates, reel/spool/cassette number. The method of numbering will dictate the arrangement and effective use of the storage areas, as this is the most appropriate method of arranging and locating the material.

Information Retrieval Systems

5.3 The type of system selected will be governed by the nature of the users' requirements. If a high level of re-use of actuality material is likely, the material must be described in detail and analysed to facilitate retrieval by many terms or concepts. If the use is largely to retrieve programmes only by genre, broad subjects or by cast and other participants, a less sophisticated system will be adequate. It is important to recognise that the usage of the material may increase and change, and to choose a system that is capable of expansion. The information retrieval and stock control aspects must be linked to enable the nature and location of programme components to be identified once the material has been selected.

5.4 Programmes may be required for purposes other than transmission by the original broadcasting organisation. These requirements may not arise until some years after the initial use. It is most important that documents and information necessary to make the appropriate copyright and contractual clearances are retained at least for the period of the continued existence of the programme. It is also desirable to retain other documents and papers that will form the record of the activities of the parent organisation. This is an area which requires a defined policy appropriate for the nature of the organisation.

6. acquisition and retention

6.1 Material should be deposited in the archive as early as possible, certainly no later than immediately following the first transmission.

6.2 The nature of the retention policy will be determined primarily by the needs of the originating television organisation. These should be carefully considered, and an agreed and formally stated policy should be defined as part of the operation of the organisation. The necessary budgetary provision must then be made to support the agreed policy.


6.3 Most television organisations do not have the requirement or resources to retain all output. It is therefore necessary to select which material will be retained according to stated selection criteria. These will take into account such major factors as the requirement for repeat transmission of programmes and the potential re-use of the material in future output. The value of programmes for sale or further distribution will also need to be considered. If there is no operational requirement, or it has been exhausted, the material may also have long term archival value. The National Film Archive, or other national and regional archives or libraries, may then be willing to undertake the preserving of the material.

Untransmitted Material

6.4 Material which is not used in the transmitted programme may also have future re-use potential. If selected material is retained, provision will need to be made for cataloguing and storage.

7. access and service

7.1 The programme archive must be accessible to the eligible users associated with the parent organisation. Its location, hours of service, etc., will be dictated by the requirements of the users. If they are dispersed over more than one site, on-line access to the information systems will minimise the problems caused by this separation. It may also be necessary to provide access to the material itself by line and transmission facilities.

7.2 Users are likely to need two main types of access: information about or contained in the programme, and sections of material to include in new programmes.

7.3 Viewing copies will be required either to derive content information or to select material for copying, according to the principles described in paragraphs 4.2, 4.4 and 4.5. Non-broadcast standard videocassettes, such as VHS, are likely to be the most economic and operationally convenient option.

7.4 Professional staff are essential to assist enquirers and maximise the use of the material. These staff must be aware of any contractual and copyright clearances that must be made before the material can be re-used.

7.5 It may be advantageous to have a common service point for all library and information requirements. Besides the programme material, these could include stills, music, gramophone records, books, periodicals, press cuttings, etc.

8. conclusions

8.1 The production of programmes is costly. If they are to be exploited to the benefit of the originating organisation, it is essential that the issues described are identified and an appropriate policy developed. Delay or neglect of this process may lead to loss of material, and may create significant legal problems that are difficult to resolve at a later stage.

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