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Worldwide, more than 30 million hours of unique television programming are broadcast every year, yet only a tiny fraction of it is preserved for future reference, and only a fraction of that preserved footage is publicly accessible.

Most television broadcasts are simply lost forever, though television archivists have been working to preserve selected programs for fifty years. Recent reductions in the cost of storage of digital video could allow preservation of this portion of our culture for a small fraction of the worldwide library budget, and improvements in the distribution of online video could enable much greater collaboration between archival institutions.

Jeff Ubois, a staff research associate at UC Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems, and a co–chair of the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ Television Interest Group, recently wrote a paper addressing issues in television archiving and digital video.

He cited four areas for potential cooperation to save television shows: cataloging; technical standards; legal strategies for access and rights clearance; and building a social consensus about television archiving.

He said operators of television archives need to devote more of their budgets to cataloging activities since lack of such logs is a major barrier to assessing the overall state of television archiving. Common technical standards for archival preservation are also necessary. Online access to text depends on the use of common standards.

Although legal strategies involving television a complex, all sides in the copyright debate could benefit from the creation of a system that would simplify access to and reuse of archival footage, and streamline rights clearance procedures, Ubois said. An organization that handles rights for television, something like ASCAP or BMI does for the music industry, could reduce the barriers to access and use, and perhaps even help to fund preservation efforts.

And, finally, Ubois said the most important missing ingredient needed for the creation of a comprehensive, broadly accessible system of television archives is a social consensus that 1) television broadcasts are an important part of our culture deserving of systematic preservation and widespread access, just like books, periodicals, sound recordings, and film, and 2) that such a system is technically, legally, and economically feasible.

For Ubois’s entire paper, go to:

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