information for archivists

audio and video digitising, archiving & preservation

How can Greatbear help archives digitise their audio and video magnetic tape collections?


Metadata helps us to describe digital resources in a structured way so they can be shared with other people, organisations and between operating systems.

For archives, libraries, museums and learning institutions, creating accurate and project-specific metadata is a crucial part of establishing a successful digital preservation repository. Metadata is becoming increasingly important for those working in professional media production too.

  • We are able to fully support and advise organisations who need to create metadata as part of their digitisation project.
  • We can generate technical metadata appropriate to the source format that can become part of larger metadata schemas for digital collections.
  • We are able to digitise to, use and edit metadata-rich digital files such as Broadcast WAV (BWAV) and the open source MKV container widely recommended for use with the FFV1 lossless video codec.
As each project is unique and individual, we can adapt our service to correspond with the metadata framework best suited to deliver your collection.

Why digitise?

Some of the most important audiovisual heritage of the 20th and 21st centuries is stored on magnetic tape.

Often the content of collections remains inaccessible because institutions do not have the appropriate machines to play tapes back on. Older tape can also be extremely vulnerable, making it susceptible to damage in the playback process.

Digitisation helps unlock the potential of magnetic tape collections by offering the double benefits of preservation and accessibility.

There are plenty of other reasons why you should consider re-formatting your magnetic tape collections to digital files:

  • According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), 'it is estimated that we have no more than 10 to 15 years to transfer audiovisual records to digital to prevent their loss.' See also the British Library's Save our Sounds campaign, launched in 2015, which aims to raise awareness of this issue.
  • Key parts in many tape machines are no longer manufactured, especially in video. Many formats are now high risk as machines become difficult to service and repair. The Museum of Obsolete Media Obsolescence Ratings offer a guide to prioritising the migration or preservation of media.
  • Magnetic tape can and does degrade - making playback difficult, risky and sometimes impossible. See the Museum of Obsolete Media Stability Ratings for a useful guide.
  • Magnetic tape can easily become damaged in less-than-adequate storage conditions, leading to mould infestation or binder hydrolysis aka sticky shed syndrome.
  • Digital storage space in hard drives, solid state drives or in the cloud has become much larger and cheaper, making it viable for all types of collection large or small.
pile of large 10.5 inch square tape boxes in archive warehouse

Bristol City Archives audio tape to be digitised

collage of pages from showing variety of audio and video formats has a wealth of information to aid A/V collection assessment

Graphic showing categories: 5 - extinct or very high risk; 4 - endangered or high risk; 3 - threatened or moderate risk; 2 - vulnerable or some risk; 1 - in current use or low risk

Museum of Obsolete Media obsolescence ratings

Man tending to tape machine, surrounded by racks of audio and video machines and monitoring equipment

Adrian cleaning a Studer A80 ¼" open reel tape machine at Greatbear

Some of our many notable clients

Archives, Libraries, Museums & Universities:

Arnolfini, Bristol
Bath Spa University Special Collections
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Brampton Museum, Newcastle-under-Lyme
Bristol City Archives
The British Library
British Stand-Up Comedy Archive, University of Kent
BT Heritage & Archives
Cambridge University Library
Cameron Mackintosh Archive
Cardiff University, Special Collections and Archives
Churchill Archives Centre
Dublin City Public Libraries
GSK Heritage Archives
Historic England Archive
Imperial War Museum
Irish Film Archive, Irish Film Institute
Irish Museum of Modern Art
Irish Traditional Music Archive
Manx Music Festival
The Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Foundation
National Library of Norway
National Library of Scotland
Open University
Peter Hall Archive
Revealing Voices, Arthur Wood Collection, Potteries Heritage Society
Royal Academy of Dance
Royal College of Psychiatrists
The Royal Society
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London (Neasden Temple)
Society of Analytical Psychology
University College London
University of Bristol
University of Exeter
University of Huddersfield Archives
University of Kent, Special Collections & Archives
University of Roehampton
University of Newcastle, Special Collections & Archives
University of St. Andrews
University of Strathclyde, Archives and Special Collections
University of the West of England
Victoria Theatre Collection, Staffordshire University
Video Art Archive, Production Network for Electronic Art, Norway
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
William Golding Archive

Broadcast & Media:

Fifty Fifty Post Production
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
BBC Studios (Natural History Unit)
Bazooka Bunny TV
Clockwork Films
Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation
October Films
Reeltime Pictures
Screen Story
Skyline Productions
Sundog Pictures
Twenty Twenty Productions
West Highland Animation
Williams Formula 1
Worldmark Films
Yeti TV

Artists & Musicians:

Lea Anderson, choreographer
Joan Armatrading, musician
Beshara, band
Blue Aeroplanes
BOB, band
Bolt Thrower, band
Bristol Archive Records, record label
Laurence Crane, composer
Deacon Blue
DJ Zinc
Rose English, artist
Estate of Howard Hodgkin
Estate of Sacha Distel
Wayne Hussey, musician
Massive Attack, band
Nigel Rolfe, artist
Park Promotions, artist management
The Jesus Lizard
The High
The Soup Dragons
The Young Gods
Larry Stabbins