The BBC Just Opened Its Vast Content Archive For Easy Access

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One of the BBC’s biggest strengths, after almost 100 years of operation, is its enormous archive of content – mostly TV and radio programmes. Now, for the first time, 214,078 programmes are available to search online, and then stream instantly.

The new tool, called Programme Explorer, was developed by the BBC as part of their response to the current pandemic, and is still a work-in-progress.

With so much content available online, it was crucial to have a targeted search engine that would let you find and discover that wealth of information and entertainment.

The Programme Explorer tool scours existing radio and TV programmes from across BBC online – including Sounds, iPlayer, News, Sport, Weather and more – to find every available programme relating to a search.

You can also check whether the programme is available in the UK only – or worldwide.

Most of the programmes are from recent years, but some stretch back several decades. All the programmes were already available on BBC online platforms, but the Programme Explorer tool makes it easier to find them.

BBC Programme Explorer doctor who

For now, the Programme Explorer only searches a portion of the full BBC Archive – not everything.

With 200,000+ pieces of content, it includes cultural series from Radio 4, such as In Our Time, Bookshelf and The Reith Lectures. For those who may be spending more time in horticultural pursuits, nearly 600 episodes of Gardeners’ Question Time can be easily searched for specific topics and themes;

People stuck at home can travel the world with thousands of World Service programmes, including Witness, Science in Action and One Planet, and children suffering from lockdown boredom can search the archive of Horrible Histories or In the Night Garden.

How To Search With The Programme Explorer

First, head on over to the Programme Explorerwhere you are then presented with a search form.

You can then do a simple text search to find the exact programme you’re looking for – or search for people, themes or topics.

For example, a search for “Terry Wogan“, would give you a list of 29 pieces of content, that are currently available to stream online (via the BBC’s websites) – from his Desert Island Discs radio appearances, to old interviews he did, and guest spots he had in other programmes. 

BBC Programme Explorer search

All the results are interlinked – so when you see a programme he was on, you can click on the names of any of the other participants – and see their results are well.

The tool also enables searchers to use a variety of search filters to narrow the results, enabling people to explore niche interests and find exactly what they’re looking for.

For example, a search for tomatoes returns results that span programmes that include recipes on how to cook with them, science on genetic modification, even programmes that explore the history of the humble tomato.

However, if you’re interested specifically in how to cultivate tomatoes you can narrow the search to find every episode of Gardener’s World that covers how to care for and grow tomatoes.

Gardener's World BBC
Gardener’s World (Photo: BBC)

While testing the new tool, its benefits – and problems – were both quickly evident. It’s incredible to be able to find all these clips and programmes so easily, but you’ll occasionally encounter results that have links that no longer work (because the content was taken down by the BBC at some point).

In addition, even though 200k is an impressive number, it’s still a far cry from the BBC’s full library of content. However, the BBC are saying they have a wider plan to open up more of the archive as the BBC’s centenary approaches in 2022.

Peter Rippon, executive editor of the BBC Archive, sayid:

“Programme Explorer is a real treasure trove for anyone with a niche passion about virtually anything, and an invaluable informal learning tool.

This tool also makes it easy to find things you didn’t know you were looking for – sending you down a rabbit hole, following your curiosity through a wide range of brilliant BBC programmes from across the archive.”

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