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Sony Tape Shortage Sends Film, TV Industry Reeling

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A damaged coca cola van sits in front of a Sony warehouse building in Sendai, Japan on March 19, 2011 eight days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. A damaged coca cola van sits in front of a Sony warehouse building in Sendai, Japan on March 19, 2011 eight days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. (AFP Photo/Mike Clarke/Getty)

The closure of the Japan-based factory that has the monopoly on production of a tape crucial to the TV and film industry has Hollywood insiders scrambling to cope with the shortage.


The Sony plant, based in Sendai, was shuttered after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, halting production of the coveted Sony HDCAM SR Tape, which is used to create multiple copies of films and TV shows for distribution. Two-hour tapes ran $250 before the shortage. Now, a 90-minute HDCAM SR tape goes for $999.

"I won't use the word catastrophe, but it's an emergency situation in the broadcast community," said Dave Miller, who is the chief operating officer at the media supply company Empress Media, Inc.

Miller's company, which is based in midtown Manhattan, does much of its business from selling tape to television stations and post-production companies.

"Unfortunately, Sony had a monopoly on the product and they made it in one place," Miller said. "So, a confluence of factors together make it a large emergency because a lot of people in broadcast have come to rely on this format — they have the cameras, they have the decks. ... It's how this content is being produced and distributed across the country and across the world now to a larger extent."

Miller said his company's supply of Sony HDCAM SR tape stock sold out as soon as TV and film companies got word that the Sendai factory was closing. It remains a unclear when the plant will resume manufacturing elsewhere.

"Sony has shipped nothing, and is not being very informative when they're going to get production on their key lines again," Miller said. "And the other major manufacturers, they can't double production in a week or frankly in a month."

Sony did not get back to WNYC with a comment about when tape production would begin again.

Many of the nation's television networks stocked up on Sony HDCAM SR tape after the Sendai factory closed.

The Scripps Network, which includes the Food Network, the Travel Channel and HGTV, among others, said it was also looking at whether it could accept alternate mastering formats—it now masters on HDCAM—and was allowing producers to recycle media cards.

"So far, the shortage has not had a significant impact, but if it should continue, we may have to get even more creative in how we handle the situation," said Cindy McConkey, a Scripps spokesperson.

Sam Verda, who works as the general manager of the eastern region for the media storage firm Preferred Media, Incorporated in North Bergen, N.J., said his company had seen an uptick in clients' requests for tape evaluation, the process of recycling tapes.

Preferred Media degausses tapes with magnets then does a thorough process of making sure tapes are clean before sending them out to clients. Its clients range from film companies to television networks.

Verda said tape evaluation was a cost-efficient way to deal with the Sony HDCAM SR tape shortage.

Sony HDCAM SR tape"First of all, you can recycle that tape quite a number of times," he said, depending on the condition of the tape. "Everything being good, you can probably use that tape and recycle it anywhere from 20 to 30 times."

Independent filmmaker Walter Forsberg, who is also a research fellow at NYU's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Department, said he worked hard to find a HDCAM tape this week. The Toronto Hot Docs Film Festival where his film "Farenheit 7 Eleven" will be screened required that he send the festival a copy of the film using that format.

"I called up Technicolor and wanted to output from my computer to tape so that we could exhibit the work, and I was told, 'We can book you the output for your film but we definitely don't have any HDCAM stock. You'll have to provide that,'" Forsberg said. "And so the last week was spent calling up every tape supplier and vendor that I could find on the Internet, asking them — and hearing from them — that they had none."

In the end, Forsberg's roommate, a video editor, gave him a tape from his own supply.

Michael Jackman, whose company Deluxe does everything from film production to color correction to producing ads for iTunes, said until March, his company had dealt almost exclusively in Sony HDCAM SR tape stock.

"In film and television and many of the other productions that we do, the standard deliverable, which is the master, we create has been by default HDCAM SR tape," Jackman said. "Even when we do a feature film, we then create a master for video production from which Blue-rays and DVDs are made and that has also been delivered on HDCAM SR. And then when we do a network television show — HBO etc. — same thing."

Deluxe has dealt with the shortage by recycling tapes for clients and hopes to soon be delivering films to clients in an even more sustainable format: digitized files.

"Honestly, it's green to recycle and even greener to be using a file-based work flow 'cause then there is no, you know, disposable stock or consumable stock," he said. "It's literally a file that sits on a drive."

The following networks either declined to comment on this story, or said they could not locate a spokesperson to comment on this story: NBC, CBS, Fox, WNET, HBO, A&E, ESPN and the Rainbow company's network, which includes AMC, IFC and Sundance, among others.

Other companies with factories affected by the earthquake include Fuij, Maxell and Microboards Technology.

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Comments [7]

mcass777

Did you check Ebay?? Prices for tapes are running for $250 a tape not $999!

Jun. 20 2011 12:16 PM
Sherwin B. from Chicago

SR tapes can be quickly and easily erased, cleaned, inspected and recycled using a TapeChek 4100 SR machine from RTI -Research Technology International of Lincolnwood, IL. www.rtico.com

May. 03 2011 11:56 AM
Stephen Asprey from Sydney

A competant intellectual property lawyer will advise that an exclusive patent etc will lose enforceability if the holder of the patent can no longer produce or choses not to produce the product concerned...in this case the Sony tape.

I'm surprised that the Chinese have not rverse engineered it all by now. Don't just sit around and do work arounds, develop a second source like what the IT industry have done for decades.

Most on the ground commentators in Japan predict that factories that have been wrecked in the Sendai area will be lucky to be get on line by 2012. The real problem apart from massive ruin of factory equipment, is power infrastructure as the grid in Japan is not totally interconnected like it is is other countries.

Apr. 26 2011 07:36 AM
chatty from San Jose,CA

HDCAM SR is about 440Mb/s or 200GB/hour. Solid state media is much faster and can be overwritten many times. It is not susceptible to mechanical or magnetic failure, will fit in a cheap bubble-wrap mailer and doesn't require a prehistoric $25K deck to read/write! Oh and they are manufactured all over the place. Looks like the industry might be forced into the 21st Century.

Apr. 22 2011 04:44 AM
MAS from TOKYO from Tokyo, Japan

It is a frustrating situation that our studio bought some HDCAM SR decks from SONY because it was the only manufacturer. One HDCAM SR deck costed almost $100k. And the machine is almost useless since the tapes are unavailable anywhere in this world. We are still making installment payments today for this deck even though we cannot use this machine... SONY at least should announce their future plan and the vague idea about timing of tape availability....

Apr. 20 2011 06:38 AM
Jet Bronson from NYC

In my field, we spend quite a bit of time laying back our mixed audio tracks to HDCAM Master tapes for the networks. This can get very time consuming as we are always having to update the tapes with tweaks and adjustments for Quality control. Its an unfortunate situation, but I hope it pushes the delivery system into a digital, tape-less format. It will much more efficient, saving time and resources.

Apr. 15 2011 08:23 PM
btn from San Francisco, CA

Digitized files all the way!

Apr. 15 2011 07:06 PM

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