How to Avoid Media Deterioration for Your Legacy Media Assets

by Siri Raasch

Many organizations have media with priceless historical and institutional value stored on tapes, discs, drives, or film, all of which come with unique storage and conversion needs, and all of which deteriorate, leading to preventable loss of your valuable content.

An array of CDs, DVDs, DDS/digital magnetic tape, VHS tapes and 16 mm film
Digital assets can be on all types of media, CDs, DVDs, DDS/digital magnetic tape, VHS tapes and 16 mm film.

What causes legacy media deterioration?

Some conditions that can lead to legacy media loss include: 

  • Frequency of use
  • Age of the tape or film 
  • Poor storage conditions like heat, moisture, and dust
  • Demagnetization
  • Physical damage to the case
  • Internal mechanisms
  • Compatibility issues as things like tape decks become harder to come by or more difficult to maintain and repair


Humidity and temperature in particular can cause damage to pretty much any type of media. It can lead to film and tape drying out or warping.

Some chemical degradations are actually contagious. Vinegar syndrome can start in one film reel and then move to others in the area by catalyzing decay, eventually corrupting all the film of a similar type in its proximity.

There’s a hidden problem lurking in your archives: media deterioration!

Containers and internal binder/glues can also present a surprising risk. Even if magnetic tape on its own is rather long-lasting, the materials used in and around it deteriorate with poor temperature and humidity conditions. This can lead to chemical reactions that impact media functionality. 

For many formats that are no longer in current use, playback devices break and become more scarce. This means that even well-preserved media can become hard or impossible to access as time passes.

Neither hard drives (spinning disk or solid-state) nor flash drives are immune to degradation either. If these are written too many times or go unused for too long they can experience data loss or mechanical failure.

Newer media formats are not always immune to deterioration.

Just because a media format is more recent does not mean it is more stable. You may think that your more modern media formats, like CDs, DVD/BluRays, DDS/digital magnetic tape, VHS tapes, or 16 mm film are safe if adequately stored. But all of these are actually considered moderate to very high risk in terms of their stability and need to be migrated to more stable formats to ensure longevity so that generations to come can benefit from your content.

inside of a hard drive of legacy media

See the table below for the average lifespan of various formats, under ideal archival conditions. If your media is not currently or has not always been properly stored, the lifespan can be dramatically shorter.

Media Format Life Expectancy with Proper Storage

(numbers are also highly dependent on type of usage)

Format Years
 Audio Tape10–25 
 DVC Pro10–25 
 M2 (MII)10–25 
 Hard drives10–15
 Flash drives3–10
 Solid state drives5–10

We can help keep your legacy media safe!

With adequate planning, migration, and archival practices, you can mitigate these issues so that your media is not lost forever. 

Whether you need help assessing what types of media you have, already recognize the need to migrate content off legacy formats, or need support with ongoing archive maintenance, Aldis has the resources and expertise to keep your content preserved, protected, and accessible.

Contact us today!