Catalogue of Woe 

20 July 2008

BBC Programme catalogue graphic

Is the BBC Programme Catalogue now out of action permanently?

When a public version of the BBC Programme Catalogue was made available on-line a while back as a ‘beta’ version, it became an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history of television since it then became easy to find selected information on the BBC’s archive holdings.

The database wasn’t perfect by any means; for example there were discrepancies between the BBC’s internal INFAX database and the public access version. The radio side of things was incomplete and there was usually no indication of whether or not the BBC actually had a copy of a particular programme in the archive.

It was a lot better than having nothing at all.

Then this public resource was taken off-line with the expectation that one day it would become available again (indeed the rumour was that it was just moving servers) so occasionally I would check the archive catalogue page to see if it had returned.

This state of affairs lasted for many months without any hint of change, until I revisited the catalogue page today only to be confronted by the following message:

“This experimental prototype trial has now concluded. Thank you for your continued interest in the BBC Programme Catalogue. The BBC is now looking into how this data can be incorporated into its programme information pages.”

Given how long it has taken for the BBC to come to this conclusion, I fear that we can expect to wait years for such a resource to be made public again and if it does appear the available information may be even less useful than before.

Without a formal statement of policy from the BBC we can only speculate as to the reasoning behind the demise of the public archive catalogue but rumours include preventing lazy tabloid journalists from dredging up twistable BBC facts like ‘How many times Little Britain has been repeated on BBC Three?’ and so on.

Others have suggested that actors and writers may use the catalogue to discover whether they have been paid the correct repeat fees but I think that this wouldn’t be an issue in practice as I expect that the BBC has been scrupulously honest in its past dealings with programme producers.

Of course there could be a bandwidth question with public access, although the internet bandwidth issue in relation to the the iPlayer is probably a far more pressing concern.

It’s a pity that such a useful resource has been withdrawn. We can only hope that it will return in a form that will remain useful for those wanting to access catalogue information, rather than for those just trying to seek ‘quotable facts’ from a ‘dumbed down’ version of the original catalogue format.

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