BBC Cans Tapeless Production Project at Great Cost

BBC Director General, Tony Hall, has scrapped the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) project saying it had "wasted a huge amount of license fee payers' money.” The write off equates to the annual receiver tax for around 670,000 homes. Hall revealed, “I have serious concern about how we managed this project.”

The contract to deliver the DMI was originally awarded to Siemens in 2008 as a call-off against the Technology Framework Contract (TFC) which was signed by the BBC and Siemens in September 2004, effectively outsourcing the BBC’s technology requirements. It was conceived as platform to enable collaborative production across the BBC’s many locations, and to include a pan-BBC digital archive. It was to support “an end-to-end digital workflow and a solution for managing digital assets that would also help establish common standards in metadata in partnership with the industry.”

In summer 2009, after a number of delays to delivery of the program, the BBC and Siemens reached a mutual agreement that allowed the BBC to take back ownership for the delivery of the DMI program. At the time the contract was terminated, the BBC estimated the completion of the system would be 21 months later than originally planned.

The project was investigated in 2010 by the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinizes public spending on behalf of the UK Parliament. The NAO found that the BBC did not have an up-to-date assessment of its contractor’s (Siemens) capacity and capability to deliver the program. They also stated “Although it took the Program technology development in-house, the BBC did not test whether that was the best option.” They found the BBC did not have a proper understanding of the approach being taken by Siemens, and were unable to act as an intelligent client.” and that “the financial benefits of the Program were initially overstated.”

The DMI was to encompass capture, desktop production, craft editing, a digital archive, and multi-platform delivery.

Once the project was moved in-house the BBC in 2011 appointed Mediasmiths to help them design and develop a range of production support tools, integration adaptors and MAM. The project, also called Fabric, was being introduced at production sites in London, Salford and Bristol.

The canning of the project is proving an embarrassment for the Corporation, as operations must still use videotape rather than the tapeless environment promised for the DMI. At the new Broadcasting House in London, built at a cost of $1.5B (over 100M annual receiver tax payments) this reversion to older technology is causing problems. The Guardian newspaper reports: “because the corporation's central London headquarters was not designed to accommodate the heat from the tape editing machines, plans are being discussed to put them in a specially constructed, refrigerated area.”

In a letter to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, the BBC Trust's Anthony Fry revealed the project had generated "little or no assets". "It is of utmost concern to us that a project which had already failed to deliver value for money in its early stages has now spent so much more of license fee payers' money," he said. "We intend to act quickly to ensure that there can be no repeat of a failure on this scale.

John Linwood, the BBC's chief technology officer, has been suspended.