BBC To Unveil Plans For Massive Online Program Archive

The BBC will this week announce plans for a massive online program archive. Speaking to, a BBC spokesperson confirmed a report in the Sunday Observer that the corporation aims to put “nearly a million hours” of its rich TV, radio and even paper documents archive online. The broadcaster already has begun digitizing vast amounts of content, though the issue of rights clearance with program-makers for such an undertaking frankly sounds like a nightmare.

The BBC spokesperson said future media and technology director Ashley Highfield will announce the plans at the MipTV conference in Cannes, France, on Wednesday. “The ambition is to unlock the BBC’s content,” she said. “There will be a trial lasting six months but, as yet, there is no date for that. We will make it available to a wide array of testers to see how they use it. It will ultimately sit together with the Creative Archive. It will be free, yes – as with everything, there will be certain costs associated with worldwide distribution, but there are no details on that yet.”

Such an undertaking is likely to require the approval of the broadcaster’s BBC Trust governing body, which has recently struck off the BBC’s iPlayer on-demand web video plans and its Jam education network. But the trust may find it harder to justify a block on a project that would make available wartime radio excerpts, nature documentary footage and classic dramas the British public has already paid for once under the license fee. The lack of detail on the business model means that, while free to UK users, it is unclear whether the project will be ad-funded either in Britain or overseas, even if it is available outside the UK.

Asked whether the new proposition would integrate with the similar-sounding Creative Archive plans (to offer material that can be “re-mixed” by the public) or with the iPlayer web interface (that would let viewers catch up on the last week’s shows and store them for 30 days), the spokesperson said it would ultimately sit alongside the Creative Archive, though that was a somewhat different proposition, and the iPlayer plans have yet to win Trust approval anyway.