RTÉ is set to spend more than €3m on the digitalisation of hundreds of thousands of video and audio recordings dating back to 1950 “as a matter of some urgency”.
The public broadcaster has put out an invitation to tender for the mammoth task, which will be completed over the course of four years at an indicated cost of €3,225,000.
The collection of recordings comprises 300,000 hours and 235,000 tapes of TV broadcasts since 1985 on the Betacam SP format; 65,000 quarter-inch audio tapes from 1950 to 2003; and the copying of 110,000 discs representing the commercial music library.
The decision to commence the tender process comes after the RTÉ Archive Review Group recommended the digitalisation in 2018 in order to safeguard “endangered historic recordings” to guarantee their future existence.
The spokesperson said the video and audio recording formats are “long obsolete” and are subject to “sound and picture loss as well as breakage over time”.
“Playback equipment is equally problematic, and the risk of loss increases with every passing day. The recordings must therefore be reformatted as a matter of some urgency to high-quality digital files to be archived in a trusted managed repository to guarantee their preservation and access for future generations to come,” he said.
RTÉ converted from film to the new Betacam SP tapes on October 1, 1985, with many historic moments in Irish TV history benefiting from the new format.
This includes a special programme by the late Marian Finucane, who covered the United Nations Decade of Women conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 1985.
Ireland’s Triple Crown victory at the Five Nations in 1985 is part of the vast collection, too.
It also includes iconic children’s programme, Bosco with puppeteer Paula Lambert, season three of Glenroe, Radharc’s six-week series on Ireland’s jobless crisis in October 1985, drama series Leave it to Mrs O’Brien, starring Anna Managhan; entertainment series, featuring various celebrities such as Gabriel Byrne.
RTÉ said that the quarter-inch audio tape was preferred for “its superior sound quality and longer recording duration in drama”.
Early examples would be, 1953, featuring John Stephenon and Pegg Monaghan. Classical music also benefitted from the adoption of tape, the spokesperson said.
The digitalisation of its “legacy recordings of audio and video archive assets” captures Ireland’s public service broadcasting heritage from the 1950s to the mid-2000s.
“The collections form part of a unique and extensive range of historic broadcast and production materials retained and managed by RTÉ Archives, on their original formats since the inception of the Irish Public Services Broadcaster in 1926 to date, almost a century later,” RTÉ said.
The digitalisation involves partnership with groups at Dublin College University, Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, the Blank Centre, among others “who will benefit from enhancing the archival material in their holdings”.
Previous projects include digitalisation of 4,500 “rarest and oldest recordings” by Radio Eireann, dating back to 1937; 18,000 studio and production recordings between 1995 and 2009 on digital audio tape [DAT tape] recordings; news archive reports between 1985 and 1999; and more than 160 hours of “the nation’s oldest news content” from 1962 to 1969, converted to HD digital files.