Tony Hall scraps DMI at cost of £98.4m

BBC New Broadcasting House A commercial alternative will now replace Fabric

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The BBC has closed DMI - its end-to-end digital production tool - at a cost of £98.4m.

The computer-based system, which was supposed to enable programme makers to shoot, edit, pull archive and broadcast tapelessly, has been scrapped after a review found that 'its ambitions had not been met'.

Director general Tony Hall took the decision to halt the project, which is also known as Fabric, with immediate effect.

The BBC Trust has announced that it will launch an independent review, led by PricewaterhouseCoopers, into what went wrong and that disciplinary action will be taken where appropriate.

'The DMI [Digital Media Initiative] project has wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers' money and I saw no reason to allow that to continue, which is why I have closed it,' Hall explained.

In brief - DMI

  • A desktop production tool that would enable programme makers to upload, access and edit material, from rushes through to finished programmes
  • DMI does not refer to all digital productions in the BBC
  • Successful digital tools in use include Jupiter for News, and Avid in Pacific Quay and Salford
  • Off-the-shelf production software the BBC could buy include Apple's Final Cut Pro and Avid's Pro Tools, already widely in use by the media

'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.'

Off the shelf

Chief technology officer John Linwood, who was the project sponsor, has been suspended while the issue is being examined.

Linwood has been in his £280,000 post since 2009 and he is responsible for the BBC's IT and broadcast technology, as well as for its technology strategy. It was reported in the Daily Mail in January 2012 that he also received a bonus of £70,000 in 2011.

Peter Coles, controller of technology for journalism, will take over as acting chief technology officer.

An off-the-shelf system will now be sought to replace Fabric.

'It has struggled to keep pace with new developments and requirements both within the BBC and the wider broadcasting industry,' said Hall.

'There are now standard off-the-shelf products that provide the kind of digital production tools that simply didn't exist five years ago.'

Speaking on the News Channel on Friday afternoon, James Purnell, the BBC's new director of strategy and digital, admitted the project 'went very badly wrong'. 'We messed up,' he said, adding that he wanted to apologise to the licence fee payer.

Purnell said lessons had been learned and that the BBC 'will do projects differently in the future'.

The background

The BBC launched the DMI project in 2008, when it claims there were no commercially available systems.

The contract to develop it was awarded to Siemens without being put out to tender. Siemens was taken off the project in 2009 after falling months behind schedule, and DMI was brought in-house.

The National Audit Office, in a report for the BBC Trust in 2011, was critical of how it had been handled and estimated that the BBC had missed out on £26m of benefits from the scheme.

In October 2012, after Dominic Coles was appointed director of operations, he led a review of Fabric to 'take stock of progress to date'.

'The review has now concluded, and it is clear DMI's ambitions have not been met,' he blogged on Friday. Coles wrote that the initiative was outpaced by rapid 'technological and digital change', while business and production requirements changed within the BBC.

The only part of DMI to make it to launch was the Fabric archive database, a system to allow users to search and request access to the BBC's archive of tapes and other media.

In letters to Ariel, some programme makers have expressed frustration with the system.

Dafydd O'Connor, a producer/director who specialises in archive-based tv documentaries, said it was 'not enabling but compromising BBC archive research'. The system is 'wholly inadequate', he added.

Phil Clark, an archive producer in Entertainment, said the tool was 'simply not fit for purpose' and that its 'design and interface are fundamentally flawed in every respect'.

The database is being improved, enhanced and will continue to be used by the BBC.

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