20 April 02007

Are the Creative Archive and remix culture being sidelined?

A few days ago the BBC announced plans to open up its archive of TV and radio programmes for on-demand access. Mention of the BBC's recent Creative Archive initiative was notable by its absence.

According to this latest announcement,

Full-length programmes, as well as scripts and notes, will be available for download from the BBC's website. The pilot is part of the BBC's plans to eventually offer more than a million hours of TV and radio from its archive.

So is this the Creative Archive going mainstream, or is the "mix it, share it" ethos of the CA being quietly dropped or sidelined? I don't know for sure, but the signs seem to imply the latter.

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3 January 02007

BBC Music web resources updated and integrated

BBC Music Artists and AlbumsIt's been a long time (2.5 years) since I wrote much about the BBC's online music resources. Though I still use these resources fairly frequently, I don't always do so particularly attentively (if you know what I mean), so I don't know if the changes I noticed today are very recent or months old.

Previously I grumbled that there were multiple BBC profiles of bands like The Smiths that seemed independent and unaware of each other. Things are much better now, with a single Artists and Albums section. Every page within that section has sections for related material 'elsewhere on the BBC' and 'elsewhere on the Web', as in the new profile for The Smiths. There's an RSS feed for new album reviews. I'd still like some feed or other alert to tell me when the next broadcast featuring, say, The Smiths is coming up.

The BBC used to license some of its artist profiles from Muze. To be honest, these profiles were not good: flat text, poorly laid out (requiring clicking through several pages). They've gone now, replaced by the BBC's own commissioned and user-generated content, plus links to Wikipedia and All Music Guide. If you look at 6 Music's Album of the Day page, you'll see a mix of links within the BBC, to Wikipedia, and (at the time of writing) one to Ink Blot magazine. There have been previous cases of online sites like GoFish and Upto11.net placing their trust in Wikipedia instead of licensing commercial sources like Muze or AMG, but is the BBC the first large traditional media corporation to do so?

3 May 02006

Spoofing music recommendation services and personalised radio

Music recommendation services and personalised radio stations like Last.FM depend on tracking the behaviour and preferences of their users, and building personal profiles on the basis of this. So what happens if the data you feed into these services isn't a human's preferences, but something else, like the programming of a traditional radio station or the output of another recommendation service?

At the risk of putting 2 and 2 together and making 5, there's another link here with last week's BBC Creative Future announcement. In the music section of the announcement there is a recommendation to "Enable people to create their own virtual radio channels out of the wealth of our existing output, channels reflecting their own personal tastes". That doesn't sound identical to Last.FM — which makes virtual radio channels out of a catalogue of music tracks reflecting users' personal tastes — but it is kind of similar.

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2 May 02006

Experimental prototype of BBC Programme Catalogue

I missed this at first in the slew of announcements about the BBC Creative Future initiative, but last week the BBC launched an 'experimental prototype' of its programme catalogue, comprising details of nearly a million programmes (here's the relevant press release).

Tom Loosemore from the Beeb spoke about this at an event I attended last Thursday, and described his delight at finding the detailed records that their librarians had been keeping for decades. Just last week I was criticising the many online music databases that don't recognise that "The Beatles" and "Beatles, The" might be the same thing. The BBC benefits from having proper information professionals (and at the same time threatens them with job cuts, but that's corporate rationality for you).

Nevertheless, I did find the odd lapse in the data, along with a range of trainspotter entries, during a twenty-minute play with the catalogue. (These are simply observations, not criticisms, as they all fall within the disclaimer on the home page.)

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15 December 02005

Musical Battleground — article in The Spectator

My article under the title Musical Battleground is in the arts section of the Christmas issue of The Spectator, out today. It covers the remixing potential of digital media, using the BBC Creative Archive and The Grey Album as examples. Here's an excerpt:

But are the products of this 'remix culture' any good? Though technology has made it almost embarrassingly simple to re-appropriate media in the way that Kurt Schwitters and William Burroughs did more painstakingly, few of the works made with the new tools come near to matching those predecessors. Now that the means to collage and cut-up our news, audio and video are installed in many a suburban living room, the ends of these practices seem to have been shorn of the radical, disruptive credentials that were once claimed for them.
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9 September 02005

In-depth music documentary sources

While I was working through all the pages on this site I listened to the last six or seven episodes of The Story of Atlantic on the BBC Radio Player. They were broadcast on 6 Music Plays It Again, and you can still catch some episodes if you're quick.

This was a 14-hour series made by the BBC — presumably before the days of extensive independent production — in 01988. It's a salutary sign of the scope and seriousness of commissioning back then, in the days before the market was flooded with specialist music magazines forever digging up in-depth features on lost Syd Barrett sessions recorded in a sauna in Croydon. Rarely does any music documentary subject get more than one hour-long radio programme these days.

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24 August 02005

Browse interface for BBC Creative Archive clips

Last week the BBC made available the first video content under the terms of the Creative Archive initiative. The footage includes material covering natural history, wildlife, science, locations. I heard there was a hundred hours of footage, though it's hard to check this; the clips appear to vary in length from under 30 seconds to 10 or 15 minutes.

The positioning of this material as video resources for VJs makes sense for at least two reasons. First it emphasises the re-mix, re-purposing scope and ambitions of the Creative Archive. Second, more prosaically and practically, it gets round the problem that little or none of the footage is the kind anyone would just sit down and watch (the Tomorrow's World clip is almost comical in the way the audio drops out — sometimes mid-sentence — presumably when some uncleared music is mixed in with the voice-track).

I may be proved wrong here, but I suspect the BBC will be hoping to discourage anyone drawing direct comparisons between use of this video material and the recent runaway figures for downloads of Beethoven symphonies. The Creative Archive is a very different proposition from music downloads, and the 'public value' test in a year's time will no doubt reflect that — including the different uses to which the material is put. Obviously this trial is just a start, and there has been correspondingly little fanfare about it: the blog coverage is fairly neutral so far, mostly just noting the existence of the new material.

The element of the trial that gives me pause is not the material, the formats or the (UK only) licence, but the user interface for browsing and finding clips.

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17 June 02005

Licensing of BBC music audio and video

For those of us trying to read the tea leaves concerning how different parts of the enormous BBC archive may be licensed in the future, this Guardian article on a Universal-BBC deal makes interesting reading. "Anything ever recorded or filmed by the BBC by Universal artists since the 1920s to the present day could be sold on CD or DVD," according to the article, and "both the music label… and BBC Worldwide hope to earn several million pounds from the five-year deal".

So it doesn't look as if these music recordings are going to form part of the Creative Archive. The article refers to the BBC being "hell-bent on being a record label" two years ago, as though it has retrenched from issuing extensive music material since then. (Here's BBC Worldwide's music page, and Googling found me this curio history of BBC Records.)

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12 May 02005

BBC geek archive (sort of)

One news service to which I subscribe described the backstage.bbc.co.uk beta as "the talked-about BBC content archive", which confuses it with the pilot of the Creative Archive, which it isn't. But it's easy to see how this confusion arises. The backstage site headline (at the time of writing) is "Build what you want using BBC content", which is pretty close to one of the stated purposes of the Creative Archive.

backstage.bbc.co.uk is targeted more at techies than at 'creative media' producers — a distinction that is becoming increasingly blurred. The content that it offers is not programmes but a collection of RSS feeds and APIs (RSS definition, API definition). A software development kit is also promised in the near future. This content and data isn't licensed under the Creative Archive Licence but under some terms of use that have a remarkably similar gist to the CA Licence.

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16 April 02005

BBC Online Music Library tender

The BBC has a Request for Information from potential suppliers of an Online Music Library. These suppliers are invited to provide details, within the next month, of the type of music content they can supply, the metadata that goes with it, the available audio formats, and any agreements with music industry publishers and licensing bodies. Full details are in the document you can download from this page.

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13 April 02005

Creative Archive launches licence; where's the pilot?

The 'Creative Archive Licence Group' is launched today at creativearchive.bbc.co.uk. While the identity politics of URLs seem to have the BBC still in the lead on this development, the lack of BBC branding suggests they are not going to have exclusive 'ownership' of it. The British Film Institute, Channel 4 and the Open University are also founding members of the Licence Group. The BFI already has a holding page for its own Creative Archive.

Re-reading the notes I took last December, which referred to a 'pilot service' being launched in the first quarter of this year, it looks like the plans have changed. I assume that small-p political interests have reined in the BBC development team to ensure that the Beeb doesn't just steam ahead on its own, and that it brings other public-sector players along with it. Which is fair enough. The new site has a project timetable, which is a model of vagueness, specifying four activities, all called 'campaigns', with no intermediate dates specified over the next 18 months. No-one wants to create any hostages to fortune.

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27 January 02005

User interface for on-demand radio

A couple of days ago the BBC launched Version 2 of its successful BBC Radio Player. Rather than attempt a review — except to say it seems to be an all-round improvement, notwithstanding the frames that make it more awkward to link to individual programmes — here is The Guardian's assessment [free registration required] and an account from Dan Hill, who played a leading role in its development.

Stations (or channels) have less relevance in on-demand listening, except insofar as they map onto clear genres of programming. When it comes to music, I find great programmes on all five of the BBC's music stations, and often on Radio 4 as well (many excellent music documentaries in the Tuesday 13.30 slot). Radio Player v2 allows users to browse by genre (the same genres the BBC Music site has been using for a while, plus documentaries), which is a major aid to cross-station listening for those (all?) of us who cannot regularly scour all the listings for all the stations.

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15 January 02005

Public Service Broadband content

Here are my notes from yesterday's Public Service Broadcasting: Beyond Television event organised by the Broadband Stakeholder Group.

I've decided to present the notes I took on my palmtop fairly unprocessed, since (a) most of the sessions were panel discussions, which it is hard to condense, (b) I don't think there are any clear or snappy conclusions, so presenting the different voices sometimes talking across each other is perhaps the most fair representation of the proceedings, and (c) I have neither the brainpower nor the arrogance of strong opinion to give an 'angle' on what was said.

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15 December 02004

Latest on the BBC Creative Archive

Here are my notes from a talk given by Paul Gerhardt, Strategic Director of the BBC Creative Archive, at Tate Modern this afternoon.

The current BBC Charter (due to expire in 02006) apparently provides for public access to the BBC archive, but 'access' means going in person to BBC premises to view or listen there. The archive is a huge cultural asset — one that the BBC 'factory' is adding to daily. The original expectation in the Creative Archive team was that they would re-create the broadcast experience, but they quickly recognised that the web encourages sharing rather than just on-demand broadcast.

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6 December 02004

Content vanishes from BBC web sites

At the end of last week the redesigned BBC 6 Music web site was launched. In the process of its revamp, the site has lost much of the specialist content that made it unique. For example, the Kings of the Wild Frontier pages that I wrote about here have gone, as have all the interviews from Andrew Collins' page. The audio (and occasional video) of Hub sessions that I referred to here are no longer available and neither are any of the artist profiles.

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8 November 02004

Learning songcraft via the web

The Edutainment field has, deservedly, got itself a bad name for not delivering on its promises. Often the premise has been that people see learning as boring or stodgy, so it has to be smuggled in, Trojan-horse-style, under the guise of a game or a celebrity-driven story. The Radio 2 Sold on Song web site shows this need not always be the case.

This is a resource that people can either dip into for snippets and details about personal favourite songs or use as an extended, and fairly rich, introduction to songcraft, its leading exponents, and how to go about it. Here's an account of how and why I think this site works.

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4 November 02004

iPods, podcasting and learning

A couple of weeks ago I speculated about podcasting breaking out of traditional radio and journalism models to find new applications. Since then, I've found that many people are ahead of me in thinking about applications, particularly to learning.

I first came across Podcasting for Education by D'Arcy Norman, which makes some suggestions for using podcasts for lectures, interviews and similar audio resources. A couple of days ago, Steve Sloan started his Edupodder weblog, and in his first posting there, he mentions support for learners with reading or other learning difficulties, and multilingual education, among other possibilities.

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21 October 02004

Pressure building for access to BBC radio archives

A month after Ofcom's mutterings about enforced licensing of the BBC's radio archive, a new report commissioned by DCMS concludes "The BBC should examine how it can enter into joint ventures with the commercial sector when considering future archive-based services." The message seems to be that if the BBC isn't making active use of its archive, it should make it possible for others to do something with it. (And the report goes on: "the lack of any formal relationship between the BBC governors and Ofcom… is a problem.")

There's a certain inevitability about this. As convergence comes to fruition, the digital world has a hell of a lot of frequencies, bandwidth and disk storage to use up (cf. an iPod is an "empty beer glass waiting to be filled") . On the other hand, there's a massive pile of historically and culturally exciting stuff hanging around doing nothing. It's natural that policy makers and regulators should want to get this material to an audience one way or another.

This is an acutely sensitive issue at a sensitive time for the BBC. As anticipated in my previous posting on the BBC's digital direction, they need both to conjure a seductive vision of potential archive offerings, and to position themselves so that they are central to delivery of this vision. In this light, reports that the first pilot of the BBC Creative Archive may be too little too late must seem a bit worrying.

16 September 02004

Enforced licensing of BBC radio archive

There's a new spin on access to the BBC's archive in this article in today's Guardian. The regulator Ofcom is proposing that the BBC could be forced to share its radio archive with the commercial world. The idea is that this would make digital radio more attractive and thus drive take-up by listeners.

In his speech yesterday, Ofcom's Chief Executive says: "My question is… this: would non-discriminatory, non-exclusive access — for a fair payment — to the BBC sound archive allow commercial services to enhance their offering to the listening public; and, crucially, do so without damaging the BBC's ability and commitment to offer a strong digital radio service proposition?"

At the moment, access to this archive is a unique selling point of digital stations like BBC 6 Music (see my posting on their use of the archive) and BBC 7. Ofcom's proposal must be seen as a vote of confidence in the value of what 6 Music is doing, even if it could be seen as threatening their pre-eminent position. It could also, indirectly, accelerate the timescale for offering the kind of service I'd like to develop.

11 September 02004

The BBC's digital direction

Based on interviews in the last fortnight with the BBC's Director General (Mark Thompson), Chief Technology Officer (John Varney), and Director of New Media & Technology (Ashley Highfield), you might hope to be able to discern, by process of triangulation, a clear corporate position and direction. But what you get is a much more postmodern mix of perspectives that only rarely hint at connections.

Given the scale and complexity of the issues, combined with the uncertain organisational context with the impending renewal of the Charter, you can forgive the interviewees sounding a bit tentative in some areas. Here's a summary of the points I found interesting.

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23 August 02004

BBC interactive Media Player: news & review

There are contradictory reports about the BBC's interactive Media Player (iMP), which would significantly extend the scope of on-demand listening and digital storage of broadcast media. Last Tuesday Netimperative quoted a BBC spokesperson saying the iMP remains an "aspirational service", with "no concrete plans for a roll-out" of the trial service to the general public.

But today a Guardian journalist reports at the end of an extensive review of the iMP that he was told that its launch "could be just nine months away".

There's nothing official and recent I could find on the BBC web site, though the iMP is mentioned in this October 02003 speech by the BBC's Director of New Media & Technology and in this chapter from the BBC's assessment of its future.

19 July 02004

BBC 6 Music as a learning resource

Born in the digital era, BBC 6 Music is a radio station at the intersection of traditional 'wireless' programming and less linear, on-demand access to audio and supporting material. It's in the vanguard of mixed (old and new) media and the BBC governors apparently want it to go further and "heighten the level of interactivity, develop the use of the archive and strengthen the station's relationship with its audience", according to this recent Media Guardian article (Media Guardian requires free registration to read its articles).

The Statement of Programme Policy includes an explicit, though very general, statement on listeners' learning: "6 Music aims to extend its audience's understanding of popular music, and programmes will continue to examine the cultural development of music, including less familiar genres like ska and backbeat, supported by information online and on-demand recordings." (As an aside, it's interesting to do a word search for 'learn' through this document to see the different contexts in which it arises for different stations.)

The rest of this (long) article reviews the learning features of 6 Music so far and suggests how they could be extended — using 'learning' in the broad cultural sense that I've referred to before.

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7 July 02004

BBC 6 Music and usability of archives

The campaign to lobby for the BBC Creative Archive is principally concerned with the form in which the archive material is made available, and specifically whether this is 'open' enough to allow (re)use for non-commercial purposes. My lobby is also to consider how the 'user interface' to this massive archive is made usable enough to ensure that everyday Jo(e) Punter can extract some value from it without needing to expend the time and energy that a researcher or artist might be prepared to commit.

The BBC's first digital radio station, 6 Music, is committed to digging up and re-presenting many of the amazing recordings they have in their archive. This week it has re-launched it most archive-based programme — the Dream Ticket, which replays recordings of live gigs and a few BBC sessions — in a tacit acknowledgement that the original format wasn't working. I think one of the problems was that it was serving up the archives in 'lumps' that were too large to be indigestible to the casual listener. The new format breaks the archives down into more refined grains, though this has cons as well as pros.

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29 June 02004

Friends of the BBC Creative Archive

As the BBC announces a "radical manifesto" for its future, heavy on digital Britain and "public value", I've come across a campaign for the BBC Creative Archive. So far the main action has been an open letter, urging that the archive should be: broad, accessible, free (for non-commercial use), whole (i.e. not just excerpts of material), soon, complete (i.e. including independently produced material commissioned by the BBC) and sustainable.

It's too late to sign up for the letter, but you can join a free mailing list to keep in touch. [Update, September 02005: This mailing list has now been superseded by the UK FreeCulture list.] There is also a project page at the Union for the Public Domain, with several links to features on the Creative Archive. See also my earlier posting on the archive.

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30 March 02004

BBC Creative Archive and 'Martini Media'

There are several interesting points in this speech by the BBC's Director of New Media & Technology. The points that caught my attention were:

  • the first use I have seen of the term 'Martini Media' — anytime, anyplace, anywhere — to denote a concept I have elsewhere referred to as ubiquitous access;
  • some pointers to the future shape of 'BBC On Demand' and the pilot of an Internet Media Player;
  • more news about the BBC's "Creative Archive [which] will give everyone in the UK the freedom to search for and access clips from the BBC's television and radio archives via bbc.co.uk. They will be able to download clips free of charge and use them in a way that will enable them, we hope, to explore their own interests more fully. The clips won't expire, users will be able to keep them forever and will be able to manipulate and add to them."
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