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When will the BBC iPlayer and the Archive marry?

BBC Archive and BBC iPlayer

„Die Briten habens gut, die haben den iPlayer!“ – states a German Blogger and positively envies people from Great Britain for their advanced media player.

He says: The British are well off, because they have the BBC iPlayer. Indeed, the iPlayer is well designed and can be used via a computer or smart phone. The other good news is that there has been an international version for over a year.

There is only one but an essential drawback to it if you see it through the eyes of an archivist: Most of the programme expire after a certain time period, usually after seven days. But we will come back to this later.

With several streams including programmes from other broadcasters the iPlayer is not only limited to BBC content. It is developing to a central British TV and radio hub from where several audiovisual information streams can be viewed. In March 2012 the service was being used by 40 per cent of online adults in the UK. This is a huge number, which surprised even the makers and shows the significant need of such a service.

Taster of the BBC iPlayer: Witness – Fifty years of the Beatles (show within iPlayer)

In the beginning though, not everything was gold. Back in 2005 the first version of the player was launched and immediately underwent public criticism: after four years of development, people accused, the BBC of only launching a beta version. But, over time the player improved heavily with every new version launched. Extra services were added like the recommendation features and a social makeover with various sharing features to add the social dimension. Finally apps for mobile platforms as well as special services for Xbox and WII expanded the product family of the iPlayer.

Getting to the downside – the majority of the programme expires after seven days and that has massive effects on the availability and usability of the content. Sharing and embedding items in social items for instance only makes sense if users are quick. After the expiration the programme is not viewable any more. So, the clear focus of the iPlayer is to distribute recently broadcast audio-visual content, not to store it.

This brings us to the question where to find all the brilliant documentaries and entertaining programmes of the BBC?

Screenshot BBC Archive

Radio and images are also available outside UK; Here an example of an interview with Agatha Christie from the BBC Archive (cannot be embedded, show within BBC Archive)

Where to find interviews with famous British artists such as Franics Bacon, or the unforgettable Agatha Christie? Here the sprawling BBC Archive comes into play. It stores almost a million hours of audio and video as well as a huge collection of documents and photographs as far back as the 1930s. The BBC has a catalogue that links it programmes and related content together. It is possible to search by subject, person or broadcast date.

For obvious legal reasons not every item can go directly into the archive, but for those which can, wouldn’t it be nice to have a marriage between the iPlayer and the archive? So that every item broadcast goes directly into the BBC Archive, and through the same interface as the iPlayer offer the viewer and listener a broader experience of current and archived programmes?

Anyway, the BBC has announced that it plans to place online the history of its broadcast output by publishing the schedule information for radio and television. It is called the GENOME project, and over 88 years of programme titles, broadcast date and contributors will be made available. When published online, this information could push open the doors of that great archive a little more!

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