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.)

No matter how much we'd like free access to all those old radio and TV sessions — and notwithstanding that all the costs of the sessions were funded by us UK licence-payers — there is perhaps a natural logic to record labels being licensed to exploit the work of the artists they have (or had) under contract . But if that's so, why didn't this happen decades ago? It shows how 'Long Tail' thinking is changing everyone's idea of what is commercially viable. Ken Garner's In Session Tonight records how John Peel's efforts to release music sessions on record, in discussion with the likes of Richard Branson, came to nothing. In the end Peel had to engage his friend/agent Clive Selwood to set up Strange Fruit records for the specific purpose of licensing some of the recordings and putting them out. Apparently this kind of venture is about to change from as a labour-of-love cottage industry to big-money revenue generator.

Apart from just the musical performances, part of the value provided by a broadcaster like the BBC is in the contextual information that helps discover and understand new music — what I referred to before as paramusical elements. So how will they license old BBC pop documentaries, many of which (as with some live performances) are made by independent production companies like Smooth Operations? If the BBC doesn't have the resources or the remit to keep producing excellent web resources like Sold on Song using old interview clips, will they license this material so that others can?

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) BBC, Curatorial, Music and Multimedia on 17 June 02005 | TrackBack
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