Key Strategies to Migrate Analog Video to Digital on Your Campus

Practical and technical considerations when moving your campus from analog to digital
By: | Issue: December, 2014
December 23, 2014

When UW-La Crosse saw the analog writing on the wall, it embarked on a multiyear project to transform tens of thousands of hours of video footage into searchable digital files. It turns out that removing the VCR cart from the classroom is complicated. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on October 21, 2014, Jim Jorstad, the university’s director of academic technologies, simplified the process. He has developed policies and guiding principles for transferring video files on campus, and shared what he’s learned so far, from the practical and technical considerations of choosing a video platform to the interpretation of copyright law.

Jim A. Jorstad
Director of Academic Technologies
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse 

We need to have a vision of where we’re headed. Why are we using this technology? How is it going to benefit us? And how do you help shepherd faculty to try the new resources? The key is to get faculty away from the idea of thinking of hard media. We tell them to think about media as a digital file that can be used in many locations—maybe in a PowerPoint presentation, or maybe in your Mediasite platform’s streaming technology. The other thing we tell faculty is that we want to preserve their rights and their copyright. When you put your resources on Mediasite, you own those resources. You can decide where they are going to go. Whereas if you put your resources on YouTube, users can extract them and use them over and over outside of your control.

Copyright is a very laborious and detailed topic. When people create a work of art, it’s theirs. When you start repurposing it, you are affecting not only their revenue, but their creative work—you’ve kind of injured them. So you need to think about copyright. I call that “copyright or wrong?” Creative Commons is another thing you should be aware of. It is not copyright law, but it’s a way for someone to proactively say how the work they create can be used. There are some points I came up with to decide whether you are compliant with copyright. First, contact the producer and ask for permission. That’s pretty simple. You can put in the letter, “If we don’t hear from you in two weeks, then we’ll take that to mean it’s OK.” That’s not legally binding, but it can help prompt people to get back to you. Also, you may claim “fair use” when using something in a physical classroom. If you are teaching a class face-to-face, you can play the entire film. That’s OK. But if you duplicate the film, then you probably want to break it down to a portion, and that will have a better chance of falling under the fair use guideline.

An exception to the face-to-face defense is found in the Teach Act. If you teach a course online and you want to show an entire film, the Teach Act makes it more restrictive. Copyright law does not give you reproduction rights. But if you can say that the tape is deteriorating, then you might be able to use that as a defense. There’s another defense that I just came across: “Is your equipment obsolete?” For example, 3/4-inch is listed as an obsolete format. VHS, however, is still considered not obsolete, so you couldn’t use that as a defense. The challenge with copyright law is this: Court cases are based on interpretation, and it’s case by case. This is important. Even with legal counsel, they’re very helpful, but sometimes you’ll get an answer and a couple of weeks later it’s a slightly different answer. And, generally you cannot get things in writing—something official that says, “Sean, you are OK,” it’s hard to get that. Really, only a court can rule definitively, so be careful.

What we do is this: When we duplicate things, we attach a copyright notice and put a date on it. And we log when it was done and who the client was, so that we have a track record. Legal counsel was very clear about this: document, document, document. Let’s talk about our workflow. Our video is uncompressed, so each minute is about 1GB. Uncompressed transfers make very big files. We have a 12TB drive to store them initially, then it goes to a RAID, and we also back it up with Blu-ray. Then we start moving everything up to Mediasite, where we can add additional metadata, which is searchable. We log everything we do. We expect the whole project to take more than five years—some people even have said 10 years.

We have thousands of videotapes. Because of the long process, you have to decide what tapes to do first. We thought the oldest was the best idea. But it’s not, because that’s where the most damage occurs. That’s where the heads get clogged the most. So now we start with the not-so-old tapes and work our way back. These are the 10 best practices we’ve come up with:

1) Communicate about why you are doing this, because faculty get very nervous when you don’t have a VHS player in the classroom. You need to have them as your partner. Show them the benefits of transferring these analog resources to digital.

2) Backup play equipment is essential. You can find them on and eBay, and in broadcast stores. Be sure you look at that equipment. Check it out immediately and don’t put a pristine tape in it. Put something that is not really important to make sure it’s going to work for your needs.

3) Monitor the equipment. We use vectorscopes to make sure the signal is solid, and a processing amplifier to change the levels.

4) Metadata is very important, and you have to decide what fields are important for your searchability. Don’t just wing this, because you need to have a structure you are going to stay with. Think this through: What do you want to search, and how do you want to search it?

5) Manage expectations. When we said we were going to withdraw those VHS tapes and do the duplication, people started shipping boxes of stuff to us. We had a very nice phone call from our library saying, “We’ve got 2,200 tapes. When can you start?” That was just the library. This does not happen overnight, so you need to communicate how the timeframe will play out. Communicate to different departments, “This takes an enormous amount of time. I recommend that you prioritize your resources because that will help us prioritize our jobs.”

6) Copyright law. It’s important, especially in academic institutions, to talk to your school legal department as a starting point so they know what you are trying to accomplish. And then take it to your state legal department. Also, remember to communicate very clearly what your expectations are. And make sure you understand and document all your steps along the way.

7) Encourage your legal counsel to write down their advice about what you can and can’t do.

8) Engage faculty, staff and students to educate them about the importance of being able to have these digital resources and how they can use them in their learning management system.

9) Track your successes and failures. We’re not a huge campus—only about 10,000 students. But we tend to be very proactive and a lot of R1 institutions are contacting us for guidance about this.

10) Review and revise what you do. We go back to legal and say, “Has the law changed?” That could affect how we use digital assets. It’s kind of a revolving carousel— the law changes by different interpretations.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: