BBC wants to build a cultural API

With over 80 years of cultural information in its archive, the BBC is looking at making programme metadata available

As part of its  digital archiving project, the BBC is looking at evolving into a cultural asset of information with an application programming interface that could supplement open data initiatives

Speaking at the Open Data Cities Conference in Brighton, Bill Thompson, head of partnership development, archive development at the BBC, said, “The BBC is a massive factory of cultural data”. While much of this data is non-digital, the broadcaster is embarking on a major archiving project to digitise the programmes it has been broadcasting over the last 80 years since its inception.

For Thompson, the broadcasts themselves are the least interesting aspect of the archive. He told the audience, “Opening up our data makes it possible to complement other open data initiatives and create a digital public space.” This could lead to new services like being able to find out what programme was being broadcast when an individual was born, or even to track every speech that a politician made on a give topic.

One of the projects is an internal version of BBC iPlayer called Redux, which was originally developed for testing, but has been used to show how broadcasts taken from the BBC's Freeview multiplex can be combined with subtitle information that the BBC adds to every programme for accessibility. With the digital text, together with manual tagging and automatically produced meta data of programme content, Thompson said the BBC has developed a proof of concept application called Snippet to search for very specific keywords, find individuals or places at a given time. The search result is a URI (universal resource identifier) that uniquely identifies the particular programme content.

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