More than mash up

Paul Gerhardt worked on opening up the BBC archives and digitising. His website is

The project started when artist Chris Dorley-Brown literally got lost in the archives and came up with a plan to re-interview old subjects, sometimes in the same locations and compared their lives to the dire predictions made in the 1970s documentaries.

People in the documentaries felt real ownership of them and turned out in droves to see the works. TV and radio have the same social sharing dimension as books, paintings or any other content, but have more barriers than other cultural products. This is particularly true at the BBC where changing policy is “like changing the course of a supertanker”.

Public appetite for TV content huge. 90% of the 9000 hours uploaded to YouTube are original content. Re-editing and reworking and transforming multimedia content will be part of the mix. Where is the equivalent of the library for broadcasters and sound and moving images?

Public service broadcasting was a natural beginning point. The BBC Archive had 2 million items, over 300,000 hours of content, and 1100 hours were added every month.

Using a modified Creative Commons Licence, a pilot scheme with defined target users was devised, and then unleashed on the public. It concentrated on news and documentaries and lasted 15 months. Cue swelling music and warm fuzzy send a BBC birthday card with video from the archive… Massive audience data was collected during the pilot and was called upon to prove the worth of the value to the BBC and the public.

The success of the pilot led to creation of a Creative Archive Licence group – where other archives were encourage to participate and run their own trials using the same licence. Half a million downloads and a BAFTA later, the pilot had commercial sector support, international support and only two minor breaches of the licence.

An example of a user-made doco was shown – remarkable use of archive material that was completely unexpected. A genuine creative relationship with the material was possible and had already happened.

So all plain sailing and a free service into the future? No chance. New regulations, funding pressure and the stringent public value test stopped the pilot and it was shelved. Plans for a creative archive remain as part of the BBC strategy…

The US and Australian public broadcasters are opening up their dark archives and allowing users to use and share their material … lets hope TVNZ does too. As Gerhardt said – the public paid for it in the first place.

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