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PAN Report: Sky News Archive Digitisation – The Story So Far….

This is a PAN report by Matt Reynolds I Senior Sales Researcher at Sky Clip Sales – Osterley, London.

Let me take you back to 2005 briefly…… Charles & Camilla are newly weds, Live8 concerts take place across the world, London is announced as the 2012 Olympic host city and I start my new career at Sky. It was in those early days as a “Tape Ingester” that I first heard talk of digitising our vast footage archive. I had only just discovered the difference between SP, SX, Digi Beta tapes and XDCams, so the idea of having to digitise the thousands of tapes in our collection seemed like a daunting task.

A bit of archive background: from Sky News’ first broadcast in 1989 up to late 2009 all footage was stored on tape. The News Archive team used an application called UNIX Reflections – this held all the metadata (tape numbers, shotlists, copyright info, aspect ratio, durations etc.) for the corresponding footage on the tapes in the vault. As and when required, the footage was played onto Quantel editing software via tape decks, in real time, for use in news stories and programming. For example, when Michael Jackson passed away, we pulled all the tapes with footage of him to create his obituary, plus any news reports and subsequent programmes. Once these had been broadcast and copies digitised, all the archive footage was wiped from Quantel to create space for the process to be repeated on a different story or programme.

Digitising the material in this way was perfect for broadcast, however it wasn’t ideal for long term preservation and digitisation of the archive. Sky News decided in 2009 to stop recording onto tapes and invested in a digital archive, Viz Ardome. This was a huge step up from Reflections – all the metadata was directly attached to the footage, it was searchable not only by the News Archive but other areas of the newsroom. Direct transfers to other areas of Sky and external partners integrated us more, allowing better workflows & collaboration, plus the speed of delivering footage for broadcast or edit was incomparable to before. A new era had dawned for our archive. In 2017 we upgraded from Viz Ardome, to a newer version – Viz Studio, this has given us further integration with the newsroom and the applications they use for news diaries, planning & editing footage.

As I mentioned, talks of digitising our archive were always ongoing – the longterm plan was always to have the tapes moved into the digital world. To complete any large project takes time and resources. As a company we never cut corners or do things rashly, everything is gone through thoroughly to make sure we achieve the best results possible on any project. The first real steps were made when we started using Viz Ardome, we could ad hoc digitise footage using the tape decks within the archive into the system, however this was not a long term solution to the thousands of tapes we held in the archive.

Fast forward to 2019, Dan Franklin had taken the mantle of getting the 30 years of Sky News tapes digitised, and the Tapeinator wasn’t messing about. After many years of planning, ensuring the right equipment was in place and getting the right resources, we were good to go and get the tapes digitised into Viz – but please note, it’s not just put the tape in and press play! Each tape needed to be cleaned, the metadata had to be transferred across to the new systems, IDs had to be created and matched to relevant records, then after digitising they needed to be QC’d – all of this for over 28,000 of them! Plus entire new workflows, settings and systems had to be created, it was an immense Herculean effort that was beginning to pay dividends. Then of course, a global pandemic strikes, and things get put on hold. But it wasn’t long before the desire to get the archive digitised overcame COVID-19 and the adventure carried on!

It’s at this point I must give a massive shout out to all the other departments and many other people involved in this enormous project.

The MIC (Media Ingest Centre), where the magic happens – I raise my hat to every one of the team involved in processing the content, they’ve nailed it.
Kev Fleming, Tommy Bowden & the media researchers for transporting & recycling the tens of thousands of tapes.
The News Archive itself – all the talented members of the department for their expertise and help with testing, troubleshooting, workflows & prioritising which footage was to be digitised first. Plus not forgetting those who had the visions and input before departing for other ventures.
The superb technical experts who wrote programmes, fixed bugs and took many calls from the team to ask many questions.
The senior management team for working with us & understanding the value of digitising the Sky News collection, and of course, for funding the project!

I’m sure there are plenty of people I have missed out, if I have my apologies, thank you to everyone involved.

(Holding back the tears as I write this next part)

April 2022 saw a key milestone marked, when the last of our Sky Rushes tapes was taken from its shelf in the vault. I am delighted to say that we have digitised the majority of the 28,815 Sky News Rushes tapes we had in the vault dating back to 1989! Sadly however, given their age, some tapes couldn’t make the journey to the new digital world. They will not be forgotten, we still have the shotlists. May they archive in peace. Those that made the journey are safely stored on LT06 tapes and are enjoying their new lease of life in the digital era! Each LT tape can hold 2.5TB which is roughly 16 hours (ish) of footage….certainly a world away from the 12, 32 and 64 minute beta tapes of yesteryear.
What’s the next step on this quest I hear you ask? We are now in the process of having our collection of Political Rushes digitised – 3,800 of them. Then onto the gargantuan challenge of the Library Master Tapes (these hold the edited news reports) – an unbelievable 243,813 records to get through! Each tape holds 20-30 news reports, all with pre-existing separate metadata – wish us luck!

Look out for the next chapter in the story……

Matt ReynoldsSenior Sales Researcher at Sky Clip Sales

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