CBC destroyed originals – but do they have a choice?

A recent headline from the Toronto Star caught the eye of more than a few archivists – “CBC is Destroying its Broadcast Originals” was the headline on April 19, 2018.  And it is rather shocking and seems like such a callous move by the public broadcaster.  How could a cultural institute like the CBC do such a thing?

Well, maybe it’s not so clear.  I have had many clients who have done the same thing for various reasons.  Typically I see original magnetic tape media destroyed when it’s a situation where it’s pretty obvious this will be the last playback attempt.  The physical medium has degraded long past it’s usable life and any content I can pull off them now is a quite frankly a minor miracle.  Unlike film formats, magnetic tape has a relatively limited shelf life and the proprietary machines are becoming more and more difficult to maintain.

Or I’ve had clients ship me pallets of videotape across the country and they literally do not have the budget to pay for the return or may need to free up space in their limited storage so infrastructure and budgets are the factor.

I think the bigger issue this touches upon is are we OK with the digital preservation standards that are being set for media formats, are we prepared to manage those assets?  It certainly was easier to store a magnetic tape on the shelf, but a digital copy is a very different story.  And when it comes to media formats, keeping just the original copy is not a viable preservation strategy.