BBC chief scraps £98m digital archive as ‘huge waste of money’

BBC Director General Tony Hall
BBC Director General Tony Hall
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The BBC has scrapped a multimillion-pound attempt to create an internal digital archive after director-general Tony Hall said the scheme had wasted “a huge amount” of money.

The Digital Media Initiative (DMI) has cost the corporation £98.4m since it began in 2008.

Mr Hall said: “The project has wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers’ money and I saw no reason to allow that to continue.

“I have serious concerns about how we managed this project and the review that has been set up is designed to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned.

“Ambitious technology projects like this always carry a risk of failure, it does not mean we should not attempt them but we have a responsibility to keep them under much greater control than we did here.”

The BBC has suspended its chief technology officer John Linwood while the review is carried out.

The DMI was an attempt to link the corporation’s vast broadcasting archive to a digital production system that would make it more easily accessible to staff.

BBC Trust member Anthony Fry said the project had “generated little or no assets”.

In a letter to Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee which investigated the project, he said: “This is because much of the software and hardware which has been developed could only be used by the BBC if the project were completed, a course of action which, due to technological difficulties and changes to business needs, would be, I fear, equivalent to throwing good money after bad.”

He said accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers would carry out an external review “to establish what went wrong within the BBC in terms of project management, control and governance”.

Mr Fry said the trust wanted to know why internal systems “failed to give any true picture of the extent of the problems with this project until late 2012”.

Ms Hodge warned the corporation two years ago that it needed a “more vigilant approach to value for money’’ after a hearing about the project. The project contract was initially given to Siemens but brought back in house when it was not delivered on time.

Former director-general Mark Thompson said in 2011 that DMI was “critical” to the BBC’s move to Media City in Salford and the new Broadcasting House set-up.