Will commercial deals help open up BBC archive to the public by 2022?
BBC hopes as many TV and radio shows as possible in online archive will be accessible before its 100th birthday
The BBC archives: material stretches across 4.5 miles of shelves
The BBC archive is not just any archive. The broadcaster has shaped the UK's cultural heritage for more than 80 years, so it contains important snapshots of the nation's history. And this rich past will soon begin to be accessible online.
According to the director of BBC Vision, Jana Bennett, there are plans to launch an online catalogue of every TV and radio show the corporation has broadcasted by Christmas 2010. The BBC then plans to gradually make this material available to the public, with a deadline for digitising as many shows as possible - rights and other issues permitting - by the BBC's 100th anniversary in 2022.
That is going to be a lot of work. The BBC's archives occupy 4.5 miles of shelves - as shown in this gallery), with 2.5m hours of film and video, 6m photographs, 4.5m pieces of sheet music, 5 miles of documents about programmes, staff, finance, correspondence and 200,000 word pronunciations. They are stored in 26 sites all over the UK.
But thanks to technological progress Bennett is optimistic about enabling public access to the archives. "It's the potential for new technology to unlock our public archives and make them available to the public that I believe is going to give an entirely new meaning to public service broadcasting and to the notion of a cultural and creative commons.", she said in a recent speech at the London School of Economics.
However, digitising the material is not the only problem, Bennett added. She said: "There are all sorts of challenges to overcome before we can do that: digitising the mountain of material, working through rights issues, dating and authenticating it, protecting privacy... and so on. The list is long."
Part of the BBC's plan is to incorporate professional and commercial options when it launches the archive. "One of the many ways in which we can build on this value is by making our programme archive available to the public, finding ways to make full use of the new models - both commercial and non-commercial - that are being driven by advances in online technology.", Bennett said.
At the moment the archive's interface is mainly geared towards educational interest - the website appears to focus mainly on its rich historical past. This digital museum will be brought into the 21st century - with the possibility of the archive becoming "a giant apps store", says Bennett.