Media Deterioration — The Clock is Ticking

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.

Some conditions that can lead to loss include frequency of use, the age of the tape format, the storage conditions, demagnetization, physical damage to the case and internal mechanisms, and compatibility issues as things like tape decks become harder to come by or more difficult to repair. Humidity and temperature in particular can cause damage to pretty much any type of media, and can lead to film and tape in particular 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, leading to chemical reactions that impact media functionality. In addition, for many formats that are no longer in current use, playback devices break and become more scarce, meaning that even well-preserved media is hard or impossible to access. Neither hard drives (spinning disk or solid state) or flash drives are immune to degradation; being written to too many times or going unused for too long can lead to data loss or mechanism failure.

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/magnetic tape, VHS tapes, or 16 mm film are 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. 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. 

Format Life Expectancy with Proper Storage
(although 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

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 of legacy media, or need support with ongoing archive maintenance, Aldis Systems has the resources and expertise to keep your content preserved, protected, and accessible.