Tape is King at DC Video

David crosthwait and the crew at dc video.

David crosthwait and the crew at dc video.

DC Video provides high quality video migration services to the television industry as well as to the general public, recovering television programming that exists on older, obsolete broadcast and consumer videotape formats, and transferring them to more modern digital or analog tapes and computer file formats. We sat spoke with DC Video owner David Crosthwait about his work and critical process of preserving aging tape-based media.

Your service is quite specialized. What is your background?
Experience in the field of broadcast television and post-production is essential. It really lays the foundation for understanding why procedures and standards are so important. I am now in my forty-second year in the post-production industry. But my time working with videotape goes back even further into my high school days in Texas. Over those many years, I’ve developed a respect for what it takes to produce and edit a television production, even with the tools of the trade changing every few years. I grew up with all of these different video formats which really helps to decipher technical challenges with a particular recording or set of recordings. In my case, I remember how good many of these television broadcasts looked when they first aired. It's our goal to make the restored media appear like it is a ‘live’ production. We just want to get the job done right.

It seems like tape preservation gets less attention within the archival community than film preservation. Do you agree?
There seems to be a prevailing thought that film is king and only film should be elevated to a restoration status. It would be better for the archival community to understand that videotape preservation is just as important as film preservation. They both hold equal value. It's not whether it's on film or tape that's important. It's the content itself that should be properly recognized and preserved.

What kinds of clients do you typically serve? Do you work with a lot of stock footage archives?
Basically our customers are anyone or any organization who has material on one of the obsolete videotape formats but needs this material accessible on a more modern-day platform. This includes TV networks, producers, independent content owners, university archives, individuals, research companies, clip licensing firms, international organizations and many more.  

What media formats are most at risk?
Any and all material that has been neglected and/or exposed to harsh storage conditions is the most at risk. Long-obsoleted formats such as Panasonic MII and some esoteric digital tape formats are at the highest risk level also. There are many two-inch Quad recordings and one-inch recordings on unstable stock including the notorious 3M foam flange. The best chance of recovery for each of these formats is to store them in a climate-controlled environment at the industry recommend temperature and humidity levels. But procrastination will do no good. Transfer them very soon if not now or else the technology to recover these old tapes may be forever lost. Also, the older media is only going to deteriorate over time. It will never get better or ‘self heal.’ Now is the time to transfer old tape to new media.

Which is a bigger problem, deteriorating media or obsolete formats? 
They are both of the same problem level. As noted, damaged and deteriorating media can be very challenging to recover. But at the same time, very rare machine formats require unique parts, which in some cases have not been made for 40+ years. 

Walk us through a typical project. How do you get started? Is there an assessment process? What does the client get back in the end? What is the end result?
Generally speaking, with new clients, we will discuss their needs by phone or email to get a sense of how the material appears to them physically and how it has been stored. Once we have the videotape on site at our facility, it goes through a physical inspection process first, then we use preparation routines developed in-house. The tape is then transferred with 100% attention to audio and video quality in a controlled environment. It is in this step that we will judge technical quality, making the determinations such as ‘Is this the optimum it can look and sound?’ Since we know that we have best-in-class equipment, we’re confident that the end result is a superior product. And it would suffice to say that most of the material that is undergoing a modern-day transfer and A to D process in our facility is going to look and sound better than it ever did before when one considers the limitations of the analog broadcast and the analog television sets the public watched these shows on when they originally aired.

Do clients typically want to migrate to a fixed media or go digital?
Approximately 50% of our deliveries are on broadcast quality digital videotape and 50% are on digital files on hard drives.

How big is a typical project? 
It varies. It could be a single item of extremely rare material to hundreds of tapes. We've seen it all.

Can you provide some examples of really tricky projects? Why are they challenging? What is the hardest format to work with?
Due to NDA's, I can't name specific projects, but any tapes damaged by neglect are the most time consuming and have the most wear and tear on a machine. Additionally, some physically edited tapes, such as spliced videotape programs take what amounts to open heart surgery to transfer and to recover frame by frame. 

Click here for some examples of DC Video's recent work. 

What are some of the key tools for doing this work?
It really depends on the project. In other words, we are fully equipped to handle most every videotape migration project that is handed to us. We have Mac Towers, Final Cut Pro, Bosch-Fernseh B format VTR's, third-generation Ampex 2" Quad tape machines including the Cadillac: The Ampex AVR-1, Sony EIAJ and CV, 1", U-matic, D1, D2, Digital Betacam, DV Cam, Hi 8 and Digi 8 VTR'S plus Panasonic D3, D5, DVC Pro and MII machines just to name a few. We have time-base correctors, video noise reducers, standards convertors and up-convertors to convert SD original to HD, as well. 

Click here for a complete list of the obsolete videotape formats DC Video can handle.

What is the typical timeframe for a migration?
It depends on the project. Some tapes can play right out of the box while others need special preparation before recovery. Ultimately, the complexity of a project underway dictates what the turnaround time will be for new arrivals. In other words, first come first served.

I am assuming this kind of work is not cheap. Can you give us a sense of a typical budget for a migration? 
Our pricing is based on client needs and is not published anywhere. We urge those with media to migrate or reformat to contact us to discuss what they have and what they need to go to. We welcome both large and small projects.

For a really big project, do you think an archive can recover the investment?
Our job is not to determine the value of content but rather to obtain the best quality possible so that the content owner can maximize their assets. In our opinion, it's up to the content owner to market their media in the fashion that best fits their organization's goals. We provide reformatted media that meets or exceeds their expectations.

Can you handle multiple projects at once?
Yes we can handle multiple projects depending on the machine usage within a specific job. We have multiple bays and a duplicity of hardware so that all workflows can be efficiently accommodated.

Is all the work done on site?

Can you do a project at a client’s facility?

What is the gold standard for a migration project? Are there clients who want both a fixed media migration and a digital file?
Every client has a different need. Digital Betacam is certainly still a major player for SD archiving while Apple ProRes is the most popular codec. 10-bit uncompressed is considered the highest quality in SD work. Some clients wish for their media to be migrated to both digital videotape and to digital file. This could include multiple hard drives sent to different locations to protect the newly created assets against calamities. Some clients who are working in a 1080p 23.98 project want their archival SD material to be up-converted to HD. This can be accomplished and has been done so many times within our facility.

Anything else you want to add?
I'm thankful for each and every one of our clients over the years. We will continue our work within the archival community preserving, migrating and reformatting our magnetic media heritage.

Reelin' in the Years Works to Preserve the David Frost Archive

by David Peck, President, Reelin' in the Years Productions

For almost two years, my company Reelin’ In The Years Productions, has been representing The Sir David Frost Archive, and in that time many unique items have been discovered in the vaults.  Because David Frost had produced many different programs for various companies around the globe, it has made it very difficult to locate master tapes and films.  From the moment we signed the agreement to be the exclusive rep for The Sir David Frost Archive, one of the monumental shows he produced that we very much wanted to represent was The David Frost Show, produced by Group W and David Frost.
The David Frost Show was a 90 minute syndicated program which aired daily from 1969 – 1972.  As co-producer, David Frost owned 50% of the rights, but Group W and its successor (now CBS/CTV)  had been handling all distribution rights, including clip sales. Through a series of negotiations between David Frost’s estate and CBS, all of the distribution rights to the show have been given back to the estate. This includes nearly 400 2 inch quad tapes and many film elements as well. On behalf of the Sir David Frost Estate, Reelin’ In The Years Productions is now the sole company that handles the rights to licensing this footage. Most of these tapes have been untouched since their initial broadcast. To date, roughly half of the 400 shows that survived have been transferred. (There were 750 episodes aired.)
The David Frost Show is an amazing time capsule of one of the most contentious and creative periods  of the 20th century. During the course of the show’s run from 1969 to 1972, David interviewed high profile guests such as Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez, Huey Newton, Vice President Sprio Agnew, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Mier, former Nazi Party Official Albert Speer, and a 20-year-old Prince Charles. There were many entertaining guests, comedians, singers, actors and sports figures such as Johnny Carson (in a rare 90 minute interview), Groucho Marx, 1936 gold medal Olympian Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Lucille Ball together with Carol Burnett, Norman Rockwell and playwright Tennessee Williams. Major music artists such as the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon all made appearances as well. Many controversial and polarizing subjects were discussed and debated such as the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings, Black Power, the women’s liberation movement, gun rights, drug legalization and the Apollo moon landing. Looking at all of the guests and issues discussed on this show makes this a very well-rounded program, accurately capturing the time period. 
For decades, the 2 Inch Quad tapes had been sitting untouched in an underground storage facility, but we now have the tapes in our care. Thankfully, we have David Crosthwait of DC Video (Located In Burbank, CA) doing all the transfers. It’s an incredible expense to transfer these if you want them done right, and many times David has to work miracles to get these tapes to play at all.  These David Frost Show 2 Inch Quad tapes are in terrible shape. They were originally preserved on used stock and Group W would store two 90-minute shows per tape at 7 ½ ips instead of the industry standard of 15ips. Oftentimes they would splice together varying lengths of used stock to fill out the reel and on some tapes you could have as many as three different brands of stock during the course of the two shows. Even with all of these obstacles the tapes look and sound great but that’s because of the laborious amount of work David has had to do to get them that way. In some cases, it has taken David 10 hours of work to properly transfer one 90 minute show. While this may not have been the most ideal way to preserve this important part of cultural and entertainment history just think of all the shows (such as the first 10 years of the Tonight Show) that were erased, and be thankful that someone at Group W had the foresight to try and save these treasures so that almost 50 years later they can be seen again. 
I look at what David Crosthwait and others like him are doing in the same way I see a professional who restores deteriorating paintings or artifacts found in a ship wreck. Simply, this is preserving history. It's a shame that there are so many film snobs out there who don't agree, thinking that only something shot on film warrants this type of expense and attention. Sadly, that attitude is why so much of this type of video tape archive rots in storage facilities.  The entertainment industry often looks at video tape as some type of sub form not worthy of the expense and attention it deserves.  So many times I read comments about film preservation being the only thing that matters, and while that is important, so is video tape. 
At the end of the day, it’s not what media it’s on but what’s on the media. I’m hoping as an industry we can get past elitist attitudes and try to preserve this material, regardless of the format it was shot on. This is our collective history, whether it’s a silent film from 1919 or an interview from The David Frost Show we just found and preserved with NASA director Clifford Charlesworth talking about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon just days before it happened. These are both equally important moments in our history and should be treated as such. 
Finally, to show you how incredible this archive is, we've cut a 13 minute trailer.