NFSA warns of the loss of national audiovisual history

26 October, 2015 by Don Groves

Tens of thousands of hours of audiovisual content held on magnetic tapes will be lost forever unless the material is digitised by 2025.

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia estimates the cost of digitising at $10 million –  $6 million to convert videotapes and $4 million for audiotapes.


Today the NFSA released a discussion paper calling for a national framework for digitisation of audiovisual collections.

That would entail a collaborative approach by government and cultural institutions in order to mass-digitise before the 2025 deadline.

NFSA CEO Michael Loebenstein said: “All tape-based formats created in the 20th century are now obsolete. Tape that is not digitised by 2025, we risk losing forever.

“This is a preventable loss. If we act swiftly today, we will all enjoy the advantages that digitisation of our collections can bring to Australia.”

The content at risk includes news and current affairs, dramas, comedies, music and spoken word.

The NFSA says a 100 per cent increase per year in digitising videotapes and a 50 per cent rise in audiotapes are required.

Magnetic tape technology includes more than 40 professional formats video and audio format as well as music cassette tapes and VHS tapes. Content held on tape risks being lost due to deterioration as well as technical obsolescence.

Industry figures including those who had criticized Loebenstein's decision to lay off staff before releasing the NFSA's business plan welcomed the initiative.

However Geoff Gardner, who blogs at Film Alert and is a former director of the Melbourne Film Festival, said $10 million is only part of  a greater need to preserve the heritage of film.

"The 2025 deadline identified by the NFSA as the crisis point for the preservation of magnetic tape similarly applies to Australia’s motion picture film and television heritage," Gardner tells IF.

"Now that a start has been made in publicly identifying the needs of the NFSA for this urgent work, the second step must be the debate to be expanded and for commitments to be obtained from all political parties for total dedication to the task. "

The NFSA warns that the last generation of fully qualified analogue-to-digital broadcast engineers will have retired by 2025. By then, their skills will either have been passed on to the new generation of digital engineers or lost forever.

In addition to the NFSA’s collection, institutions such as the National Archives of Australia, the National Library of Australia, state libraries and others hold significant magnetic tape collections.

Film activist David Donaldson suggested reaching out to senior people in the screen industry to enlist their help in preservation. Rhetorically he asked, "How many industry events feature the preservation aspects? How many training courses have preservation built into their syllabuses? What is being done to call on the expertise and memories of people who have retired from active work in audio and film?"

Deadline 2025: Collections at Risk is available from the NFSA website (