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Originally posted July 12 2007 at 18:07 under General. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

BBC Needs Two Archives

Sort of tangentially related to the BBC iPlayer stuff, I’m actually a tester for the BBC’s online archive service trial (sorry, that’s basically a closed off page. Here’s a BBC News Article announcing the trial’s launch). I’d sort of forgotten about this until reminded the other day, and I’ve been looking around. My main conclusion is that really, the BBC needs to offer two archives.

There isn’t much in the archive that I actually want to watch currently. This seems to be partly because this is a trial, and being slowly built up, partly because of the approach the BBC are taking to doing that and partly due to what I see as a more fundamental problem. That this is a trial means that the BBC are still understandably investigating what works, and also means they’re avoiding any tricky or thorny issues that are bound to arise later. You can’t help but wonder what will happen when it gets more opened up and the general public wonder, for instance, why there’s no Python under comedy, or Bagpuss under children, because they are the sort of thing people will want to see.

Limited content aside, the BBC have taken what amounts to a disjointed approach to adding it (probably partly in order to get as much initial variety as possible). So while they offer themes (for example, “Before they were famous”) when browsing through everything available this leads to seemingly random single episodes of series. So there is a random episode of Paul Daniels here, another episode of Rod Hull’s show there, extracts from a Terry Wogan radio broadcast with no real reason for choosing that particular broadcast over the preceding or succeeding day’s. I can’t help thinking it might be better to simply put up an entire series, which gives much greater value—and makes people watch more—than having random episodes almost entirely out of context.

A screen capture of the BBC Archive Trial front page, showing the featured content mentioned in the main textNone of this really touches on why I think they need two archives though, or at least some sort of logical split. An awful lot of the archive’s content can be described as “historical political”. For instance, I’ve just now logged into the archive trial (to get the numbers I set out below). The “Featured Content” is the World Tonight radio show from the 27th of August 1970, featuring Howard Wilson discussing his party’s defeat in the general election. There are 32 items under “News and Current Affairs”, the latest of which is from 2006. The “Factual” category contains 206 items but a lot of it again is heavy stuff, with quite a bit of social context. The irony of presenting the “Modern Times” series dating from 1995–1996 seems lost. Things like “The Road From Jarrow” aren’t precisely irrelevant today, but it was made specifically to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Jarrow Miners March. Parts 2 and 3 (though not, so far as I can see, currently Part 1) of a sequence of 1987 radio broadcasts analysing the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s government? While all these are undoubtedly important, and of great historical significance, they are, today, largely irrelevant when not directly studying the socio-history of that period. Interesting as it may be to see what was thought of Thatcher’s reign as it happened, we are today much better placed to analyse it with the benefit of much greater hindsight. The thing is the BBC has historically been strong in producing such documentaries, political commentaries, etc. Along with the fact that usage rights issues, and financial implications, are probably a lot simpler around this type of programming, this means that they begin to drown out the 27 comedy offerings, or 4 sport offerings (one of which is a George Best interview, and at least one other of which seems to be pretty much of its time). Great a legacy as they are, and as important as it is that they are made available in some way, I believe that a lot of these offerings need to be shuffled off into a separate “academic” archive, or at least filtered from the main offerings. That way the wonderful variety available can properly shine through.

PS The only thing I’ve actually fully watched so far is Episode 1 of The Tripods. Now that’s how to do decent TV science fiction.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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