The Preservation of Audiovisual Material

The Montreux Jazz Festival (MJF) Digital Archive Project’s main goal is the preservation of its unique world-wide audiovisual patrimony.

Audiovisual documents can be defined as “works comprising reproductible images and/or sounds embodied in a carrier whose

  • Recording, transmission, perception and comprehension usually requires a technological device
  • Visual and/or sonic content has linear duration
  • Purpose is the communication of that content, rather than use of the technology for other purposes” [1] (p. 23).

Those characteristics make the preservation very complex, because it is necessary to preserve a physical carrier (which is fragile and needs control on the environmental conditions, and very care handling), a technology (which evolves at a very rapid pace and becomes obsolescent) and a content.

In the current state of technology, the most common strategy is to dissociate the content and the carrier, and to preserve both separately. Note that the MJF project doesn’t address the preservation of the carrier, for its goal is not to create an archive strictu senso, but a digital repository, where the digitized content has been made totally independent on a carrier (and on the technology to read it).

As migration from analog to analog, or from analog to digital, causes information lost, the digitization is seen as the best solution. It has several advantages: it is possible to migrate the content from digital to digital without any generation lost, it is easy and fast to migrate, it allows error detection, and it makes dissemination and communication of the content very easy. Moreover, most of audiovisual materials are today created in a digital form. But on the other hand, the digitization raises new problems of technological obsolescence. There is no definitive solution to this problem: computer museum, emulation, universal virtual computers (UVC), etc. are attempts which don’t have proven their efficiency until now. The most common preservation strategy at the current time is migration (one talks about preservation process); but a strategy based on migration implies critical choices. As writes [2], “the digital community as a whole recognise that any digital solution should be based in open standards and automated system because all digital solutions must address the issue of technical change […]. The approach for digital preservation then is not to build permanent systems, but rather to construct systems which will facilitate the management and preservation of the data content in the face of change” (p. 7).


All resources accessed on December 16, 2008.


[1] BRADLEY, Kevin. LEI, Junran. BLACKALL, Chris. Towards an Open Source Repository and Preservation System: Recommendations on the implementation of an Open Source Digital Archival and Preservation System and on Related Software Development [online]. Paris: Unesco, 2007. 34 p.

[2] EDMONDSON, Ray. Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles [online]. Paris: Unesco, 2004. 73 p.