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Wiping (magnetic tape)
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Wiping (magnetic tape)

Wiping or junking is an economic move by TV companies in which old videotapes and kinescopes were wiped (deleted) and reused or were destroyed. This practice is now much rarer, as TV companies have come to understand the economic value of keeping archive material.

Many old BBC television programmes and plays were wiped after it was felt that they had "exhausted their commercial potential" - this was before the VCR was common and issues with the musicians union and the actors union, Equity, made repeats impossible after a set number of times - the unions reportedly feared that constant repeats could put their members out of work - remembering that there were only three channels in Britain at the time. The BBC junkings took place mainly between 1972 and 1978, now the BBC is desperately trying to get copies of the lost films; hence, scholars argue that the move is often short-sighted as their value was not realised. Astonishingly, among the programmes wiped was virtually all the BBC's coverage of the Apollo 11 moon-landing mission in 1969. It was argued that one barrier to recovering these programmes is that the often the now existing copies were either illegally made or preserved. For example, in some cases a copy was made for foreign broadcast with the agreement that the copy would be destroyed or returned after broadcast, and the copy remains only because that agreement was broken. The BBC has however announced an amnesty for anyone holding such prints.

The BBC was not alone in this practice - many ITV companies also wiped videotapes and destroyed kinescopes, leaving gaps in their archive holdings.

BBC radio programmes were also wiped, some of them as late as the mid-1980s. In the case of radio, the existence of domestic reel-to-reel audio tape recording meant that many programmes that were taped by listeners have survived and been returned to the BBC in at least passable condition.

See also:

Full Details of the BBC's treasure Hunt: [1]

Related article: film preservation