Industry Scrambling After Japan Earthquake, Tsunami Lead to Tape Shortage


Following the suspension of operations at various Sony manufacturing plants -- as well as other manufacturers' plants -- in Japan that were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, the broadcasting, production and postproduction industries are facing an impending tape shortage and scrambling to secure what inventory remains.

The NBA, for example, was looking to secure enough tape to get through the NBA Finals in June and its planned 3D broadcasts.

"It was like a bank run," said one postproduction insider of the industrywide scramble.

The manufacturing of various tape formats has been affected by the tragedy. Two key formats are HDCAM SR, made exclusively by Sony and widely used in feature and episodic television production for varying uses including as camera masters and for dailies; and LTO, an even more widely used magnetic tape storage format that is made by manufacturers including Sony, Maxell and Fuji.

The manufacturing of HDCAM, DVCAM, Betacam SP, Digital Betacam, Betacam IMX, Betacam SX, XDCAM, SxS, Blu-ray, DV and HDV also has been affected, according to a source.

At this stage, it's impossible to know the long-term impact of the situation. One broadcast organization, however, was informed that it might be a year before orders can be properly filled.

A Sony spokesperson said the company was gathering information about the condition of its plants and did not offer a timetable on what it would do next.

Sony has ceased operations at various Japan-based manufacturing sites, as well as at its Sony Corp. Sendai Technology Center, due to the earthquake damage, and it has voluntarily suspended operations at additional sites in response to reports of widespread power outages.

The Taipei Times reported: "Among the six quake-hit factories, the four located in Miyagi Prefecture produce mainly IC cards, Blu-ray Discs and magnetic tape, while two other factories in Fukushima Prefecture make lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. The Blu-ray Disc and magnetic tape factory in Tagajo City, Miyagi Prefecture, suffered the worst damage. The ground floor of the entire building is still flooded, and Sony officials do not foresee the factory becoming operational in the short term."

Sources in the U.S suggest product availability also is being affected by interruptions in the supply chain for the raw products and by rolling blackouts.

Sony is said to be rationing stock in order to avoid hoarding. However, there might be some price gouging -- one rumor suggested that a holder of SR tapes was trying to sell new SR stock at a 75% increase over list price.

Sources said Sony is encouraging clients to recycle what they have, meaning erase the content and reuse the media.

"I don't think anyone knows or understands the implications of how long it is going to be," said Mike Brodersen of post house Fotokem. "We'd like to find ways of alleviating the demand (to assist Sony)."

In the episodic series and feature production arena, industry leaders are suggesting that some productions might go back to dependable film formats and/or speed up the use of developing next-generation "tapeless workflows."

With tapeless workflows, instead of recording to tape, production records camera information to a digital recorder and works with those digital files through the post process.

Sarah Priestnall, vp market development at Codex, which makes portable digital recorders, acknowledged that she has seen the demand for the Codex recorders increase this week.

She said an upcoming feature production that had planned to shoot tape but decided instead to go file-based has contacted Codex, and a TV series that was to use a hybrid of tape and files but is now going tapeless also has been in touch.

"We were seeing a huge transition (toward file-based workflows) anyway, and this is one more thing pushing features and TV in that direction," Priestnall told The Hollywood Reporter.

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