02 February 2010

Raiding the BBC Archives: DRM, iPlayer, and other things

Anyone familiar with UK TV knows that the powers that be were terrible about archiving shows. It was common UK television practice up until the late 1970s to destroy videotapes because of agreements with actors' and musicians' unions that limited the number of repeats. Fortunately, the policy of wiping recordings ceased in 1978. When Peter Cook learned the series Not Only... But Also was to be destroyed, he offered to buy the tapes from the BBC but was refused because of copyright issues. He then suggested that he purchase new tapes, so that the BBC would have no need to erase the originals, but inexplicably this was also turned down. We are fortunate that some series managed to survive this dark period of ignorance. I believe that some programmes, such as Doctor Who and the Goon Show managed to survive because the tapes were shipped to other countries that were more enlightened regarding archiving (e.g., Canada and Australia).

This wasn't just a UK problem since Lathe of Heaven had various issues regarding its rebroadcast, this was despite it being the most requested PBS programme of all time. Even the remake had to have the Beatles "A Little help from My Friends" redone to enable the show's rerelease. WNET has not said how much it cost to re-release Lathe of Heaven, stating simply that it "wasn't cheap," and that hopefully royalties would help recoup the expense.

Anyway, This comes from one issue I have with iPlayer: they don't archive the shows for very long. The 7 day limit is annoying: especially when they rebroadcast the show. Also, the rebroadcast of Hamlet was in standard def rather than hi-def. The good folks at the Beeb have said that they are making the quality of standard programmes better, which they are. But, hi-def is indeed much clearer, which is important when you are watching the programme on a 1080p 37" LCD-TV! Also, some of the later archived versions of iPlayer vids are signed.

Being signed is acceptable if you are deaf, but it's a bit like watching someone playing charades for those who do not sign. This is especially true since the interpreters tend to emote whilst signing. It could be worse, the described programmes for the blind are a bit annoying as well. The Goons used to point out the advantage of the radio for using your imagination. As they would say "try doing that on Television" after some bizarre description of their activities.

You can find Goon Show Scripts here:
If you are too cheap to buy the books.

The next annoyance is DRM, which isn't limited to iPlayer. Neither is it really relevant since there are ways to get around that nonsense. It seems to me that these people could make more money by allowing people to subscribe to the iPlayer service and download away. Better yet, get rid of the geographic restrictions on this material anyway since that can be circumvented as well.

It's a bit like the cartoon where the person is saying "Not many people pirate CDs of Buxtehude" (although I did hear that Tallis's Spem in Alium was pirated as Spam in Allium, or Spam in Garlic in translation--not sure if that was a joke or not after this reference). How many people are going to pirate Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys? Anyway, it seems that regional encoding has gone the way of the Dodo with blu-ray since people who want to watch programmes such as Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys will do so.

Never underestimate a determined Anorak!

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