Best Practices

As a technology- and time-based form, single-channel video poses unique challenges and conditions for the institutional and individual collector. Video's reproducibility, which has drawn artists to its conceptual, formal, and cultural implications, makes it both easier and more difficult to collect. The landscape for collecting media art has changed dramatically in recent years as galleries sell limited video editions in the art market, museums apply advanced archival practices to media works, and artists make mutable works that confound the very notion of "ownership." New vocabularies and standards are being developed to address the acquisition, maintenance, and conservation of single-channel video. In this evolving climate, collectors should be familiar with several key issues, including recommended archival media formats (such as Digital Betacam), accepted preservation standards, rights and restrictions, duplication and contracts.

This section of the Guide outlines recommendations and guidelines for collecting single-channel video works, and combines a suggested Planning Process and answers to Basic Questions into one resource that can be adapted for educational and cultural institutions as well as private collectors.

To ensure your collection's future viability and accessibility, the preservation, cataloging, and conservation of single-channel video works should be addressed at the point of acquisition. For a detailed discussion of preservation guidelines, see the Preservation Best Practices section of this Resource Guide.

Understanding the Basics


Acquisition Formats

Rights & Restrictions

Collection Management, Documentation and Storage

Exhibiting Works in Your Collection

Preserving Works in Your Collection

Understanding the basics

The term "single-channel" refers to video or media work that involves a single information source (such as a DVD), a single playback device (such as a DVD player), and a single display mode (such as a flat-screen monitor). To cite a familiar example, when you play a DVD and view it on your television at home, you're showing single-channel video.

The electronic information can be recorded on a range of media formats, including digital media (DVD, Digital Beta, DVCAM) or analog video (VHS, Betacam SP). Single-channel works can be presented in any number of contexts and venues, including cinemas or theaters, gallery spaces in museums or other institutions, or classroom settings, to name just a few. Exhibition designs may include freestanding monitors, wall-mounted flat screens, or large-scale projections. Single-channel works range from classic early video pieces, such as Joan Jonas's Vertical Roll (1972), to recent digital works, such as Pierre Huyghe's A Journey That Wasn't (2006).

Single-channel video can be either "editioned" or "uneditioned." For a collector, this difference will have an impact on the work's price, its availability and the rights and restrictions that apply.

Artists creating media art today often work within different models and contexts, selling limited edition video works through a gallery, disseminating Internet-based works online, and offering uneditioned video works through a distributor. The distinction between editioned and uneditioned video is complex and sometimes confusing. Video is a reproducible medium, and the difference between editioned and uneditioned works reflects different economic and distribution systems, and often a contrasting philosophical approach to the medium as well.

Uneditioned Video: A video work that is “uneditioned” has no limit to the number of copies that may exist; however, there may be stringent restrictions governing who may make copies, how they are made, and how they may be used. These restrictions are typically outlined in an agreement that is signed before the work is sold or exhibited. Uneditioned video works reflect a different economic model than that of the commercial gallery system. With uneditioned video, artists are typically paid a royalty when the work is exhibited or sold. Thus, exhibitors pay a fee for the inclusion of an uneditioned work in an exhibition or screening. Film and video art distributors typically represent uneditioned media works: for example, the single-channel video works in the EAI collection are not editioned, allowing broad access.

Editioned Video: An artist who wishes to produce a finite number of copies of a video work for the art market creates a limited edition. This video work is editioned, which means that the number of circulating copies for sale is limited (for example to three, five, or ten, plus artist's proofs). Beyond this edition, no further copies may be made. The price of a limited-edition video work is often correlated to the size of the edition. A certificate of authenticity confirming the number of the edition accompanies the sale of a limited-edition video work. Commercial galleries typically handle limited edition video works.


As described above, distributors and galleries represent different economic systems for handling the sale of video works to public and private collections. These two models also reflect different historical and philosophical approaches to a reproducible medium.

Distributors of video artworks are typically nonprofit organizations and usually represent video works that have been created in unlimited editions. Distributors sell and rent uneditioned works in a range of formats at relatively affordable rates, based on the archival life of the format acquired and the rights being offered. A purchase fee is charged based on the format and specific rights being acquired. A percentage (often 50%) of every purchase fee goes directly to the artist in the form of a royalty. Because "access" is a central tenet of nonprofit distributors' missions, they invest in preservation activities that result in collectors’ receiving the best quality acquisition copies available and a broadening of the range of works available for acquisition.

Galleries almost exclusively represent editioned media art works—that is, video works that have a limit on the number of copies made. This limit is usually agreed upon between the artist and his or her primary gallery and is enforced through a contract signed by the buyer of an edition copy. As for-profit entities, galleries are focused on the sale of these limited editions, often to private collections. When a gallery sells a limited-edition video work, it often issues a "certificate of authenticity" that confirms the number of the edition. Since the art market is tied to notions of exclusivity, the price of a limited-edition video work reflects the size of the edition (among other factors).

Fees for media works vary depending on a range of factors, including the source of the artworks (distributor or gallery), the media format (Beta SP, Digital Beta), and the terms and rights being acquired.

Fees for single-channel video works that are sold as limited editions through a gallery vary greatly. These fees are based on the size of the edition and the work's market value.

Uneditioned video works, available through a distributor, are offered for a range of fees that follow a standardized price structure typically based on duration and format. For example, archival formats such as Digital Beta, which may be offered with extended rights to migrate to other formats, cost more than a reference copy on DVD.

Acquisition Formats

Institutions or individuals should acquire media art works on accepted archival formats, such as Digital Betacam (also known as DigiBeta or D Beta) or Beta SP. Archival formats, when stored properly, will ensure the longevity of the work and provide the best quality video image and sound.

Digital Betacam is the recommended acquisition format. DigiBeta is the primary digital archival format and is considered the best preservation standard by the archival community. There is no generation loss of content when remastering from Digital Betacam because it is an exact digital clone of the original. This low compression digital format is robust and reliable, and is widely supported in the broadcast and professional production industries.

Beta SP is a high-quality analog format that is also an acceptable archival format. It is durable and reliable; however, because it is an analog stock there can be generation loss.

When acquiring single-channel video work it is important to obtain the work in both an archival acquisition format and a reference or exhibition format (or the rights to create such copies). With proper rights, archival formats can be used to create reference or exhibition copies as needed in the future. A viewing, reference, or exhibition copy should be made from source material on archival formats or uncompressed video files and authored by a knowledgeable professional. Reference copies are made on less resilient consumer formats (such as DVD) and require less expensive playback equipment. These copies will be prone to wear and tear from frequent play. Collections that have active exhibition programs and are not obtaining in-house duplication rights should acquire additional backup reference copies from the distributor or gallery.

Rights & Restrictions

As an electronic medium, video is distinct from traditional art forms such as painting or sculpture in that it is infinitely and easily reproducible. Typically, collectors must enter into specific agreements or licenses that outline the terms, conditions, and rights that are being extended for the acquisition of a media work. Such agreements vary depending on the source of the artwork and whether the work is a limited or unlimited edition.

If an uneditioned video work is acquired from a distributor, the collector is typically asked to sign a "license agreement." This agreement varies depending on the nature of the collection (library, museum, private collection, educational institution), the format acquired, and the specific rights granted.

A "certificate of authenticity" typically accompanies the purchase of a limited-edition single-channel video work from a gallery. The certificate, signed by the artist and gallerist, confirms the number of the edition and outlines the rights being extended to the collector. This document is necessary when considering the resale of media works in the secondary market.

Purchase agreements, such as license agreements described above, may include in-house public performance and exhibition rights, the rights to produce reference and exhibition copies for in-house use, and in some cases secondary market resale rights.

Rights to reproduce media works are specific to each license agreement or contract. It is safest to assume that copying of any kind is forbidden unless you have drawn up and signed an agreement with the artist, distributor, or gallery that specifically allows for duplication. Acquisition of archival formats from a distributor may include duplication rights for additional reference copies for in-house viewing purposes. These rights will be clearly outlined in the license agreement, which will accompany your purchase. It is advisable to discuss these rights before purchasing works from a distributor or a gallery to avoid confusion on the subject after the sale has been completed.

Collection Management, Documentation and Storage

Depending on the size and mission of your collection, you may already have a collection management database system in place. However, many of these systems do not sufficiently address the registration nuances associated with media artworks, which are reproducible and variable. The Preservation section of this Resource Guide outlines Best Practices for the inventory, cataloguing, numbering, and labeling of single-channel video works. IMAP (Independent Media Arts Preservation) has produced a user-friendly, customizable collection management database in Filemaker Pro that may be used as an ancillary means for cataloguing single-channel video works. Please visit for more information.

Proper storage conditions are essential to the longevity and viability of your video collection. An ideal storage environment for videotapes is approximately 50 F at 25% relative humidity, with little fluctuation. The tapes should be stored upright in cases on metal shelving. The biggest dangers to video are dampness, rapid temperature and humidity change, mold, and dust. Tapes should be kept away from strong magnetic fields, including computer and video monitors. Storage spaces should be located away from windows (to avoid sunlight) and kept cool and dry. Stability of temperature and humidity is essential.

The Preservation section of this Guide details Best Practices for media storage, as well as recommendations for collections that may not be able to provide optimum storage environments.

Exhibiting Works in Your Collection

Whether the work you've purchased is part of a limited edition (purchased through a gallery) or unlimited edition (purchased from a distributor) will greatly impact how the acquired work can be exhibited. It is advisable to discuss these rights when purchasing works from a gallery. The gallery may have specific procedures regarding the loan of works from a collection to outside exhibitions. Even if this practice is approved by the gallery, there will likely be guidelines regarding notification of the loan so that the gallery and artist can maintain comprehensive exhibition records.

When single-channel video works are purchased from a distributor, one typically is purchasing "in-house exhibition" rights only. This means that the acquired works may be exhibited only within the walls of the purchasing institution or private collector's home/exhibition space. Requests for exhibiting works "out of house" should be directed to the distributor as loan or rental fees will apply.

The exhibition of single-channel video work requires the appropriate playback equipment (for example, a professional DVD player), display device (a presentation monitor, plasma or LCD flat screen, or projector and projection surface), audio equipment (amplifier, speakers, or headphones), and cables and connectors. The specific playback and display equipment you'll need to show the video works in your collection will depend on the exhibition or reference format (for example DVD) you have been supplied as part of your acquisition. These decisions will also be based on a range of variables, including the exhibition space or venue, the viewing context, availability of equipment, the desired audience interaction with the work, the artist's specifications, and any agreements that accompanied the purchase.

Equipment decisions may have an impact beyond the purely technical. For example, the decision to project a work in a theatrical setting, or to show it looped on a flat-screen monitor in a gallery, should speak to the artist's intentions, as this will impact the meaning and perception of the work. Many artists conceive media works in which the presentation details are integral to the work. In such cases, the artist may identify very specific requirements for how the work must be presented. These requirements may range from issues of display (for example, a work must be shown on a monitor, or may only be projected) to what formats can be used for exhibition. When acquiring media works, whether from the artist, a distributor, or a gallery, it is important to inquire about such requirements, so that the works can be presented as the artist intended. If guidelines are not provided, the collector should consider the intent of the work, as the decision to project it or show it on a particular monitor may alter its meaning. It is important to know any particular requirements before buying a media artwork and before purchasing equipment.

Preserving Works in Your Collection

Most single-channel video art works were created using technologies that were originally designed to be ephemeral. However, basic preservation actions - and thoughtful long-term planning - can insure that video works survive for generations to come. The preservation of the single-channel video works in your collection will include consideration of issues such as documentation, inspection, conservation, migration and quality control.

Preservation refers to the overall process by which the content of an item is saved, and its long-term viability and accessibility ensured. Ideally, the preservation and conservation of the single-channel video works in your collection should be addressed at the point of acquisition. However, one can approach the preservation of an existing collection through the development of a preservation plan to assess and document conditions, establish priorities, and create a conservation strategy that includes remastering/migration and storage. If the single-channel video works in your collection are in active distribution you should contact the distributor prior to re-mastering, restoration or migration.

Understanding the basics of preserving your single-channel video collection is so important that we have dedicated a comprehensive section of this Guide to the issue.

For a detailed discussion of single-channel video preservation guidelines, see the Preservation Best Practices section of this Resource Guide.