BBC abandons £100m digital project


James Purnell, BBC's director of strategy and digital: "We've messed up, we're sorry"

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The BBC has scrapped a £98m digital production system, which its director general said had "wasted a huge amount of licence fee payers' money".

The Digital Media Initiative was set up in 2008 but was halted last autumn having never become fully operational.

"I have serious concerns about how we managed this project," BBC director general Tony Hall said.

An independent review has been launched "to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned", he said.

The Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was intended to transform the way staff developed, used and shared video and audio material and was seen as an important part of a move of resources to Salford.

"Ambitious technology projects like this always carry a risk of failure," Lord Hall said.

"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 Digital Media Initiative (DMI) was designed as a production tool that would make BBC recordings accessible to staff via a desktop - from the raw footage right through to the final edit.
  • Archive material would also have been accessible via the DMI, making it a one-stop shop for staff making TV and radio programmes.
  • While it would have been available to both radio and television producers, DMI was primarily designed for TV output.
  • Off-the-shelf production software like Apple's Final Cut Pro and Avid's Pro Tools are widely used by the rest of the media industry.

The contract to deliver the DMI was originally awarded to technology company Siemens in 2008 but was taken over and relaunched by an in-house BBC team in 2010.

Between 2010 and 2012, the project cost the corporation £98.4m. An internal review was set up in October 2012 after the BBC Trust expressed serious concerns.

In a letter to Margaret Hodge, chair of 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 licence fee payers' money," he said.

"We intend to act quickly to ensure that there can be no repeat of a failure on this scale."

Mrs Hodge described the episode as "a terrible shock and clearly completely shambolic".

The corporation said the initiative had been badly managed and outpaced by changing technology, and that to carry on would be throwing good money after bad.

"It's struggled to keep pace with new developments and requirements both within the BBC and the wider broadcasting industry," Lord Hall wrote in an email to BBC staff.

Disciplinary action

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

"We will be looking into what has happened and will take appropriate action, disciplinary or otherwise," he added.

Rob Wilson MP, private secretary to culture secretary: "Disastrous for licence payers"

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

In 2011, then director general Mark Thompson told the the Public Accounts Committee that the initiative was "critical" to the BBC's move to Media City in Salford and the establishment of new Broadcasting House.

"A lot of the future of the BBC is tied up in the successful delivery of this project," he said, at the time.

James Purnell, the BBC's director of strategy and digital, said: "In the future we are going to rely far more on off-the-shelf technology. We've messed up and we apologise to licence fee payers for that."

Yet he insisted the failed project was "the exception rather than the rule", citing technical successes such as the BBC iPlayer.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 929.

    A guaranteed income (licence fee) inevitably makes an organisation less efficient & competitive. But we really want the alternative of no licence fee & a destroyed BBC? Ok, they've messed up here but still have 9/10 top viewed shows each Christmas - so they do many things well. Perhaps a phased reduction of the licence fee to 50% over 10yrs, replaced by sponsorship (but not of kids' shows).

  • rate this

    Comment number 928.

    Resignation please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 927.

    The Tories will happily pay £98,000,000 to retain the control of the BBC to trial out and ultimately scaremonger its policies through.

    The war on "terrorism" for example. What a laugh!

    A real shame that BBC has become political property.

  • Comment number 926.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    no wonder u lost f1 to sky, u complete and utter useless idiots, makes me feel so much betr, i used to think i was awful with money, well u hardly set a shining example urselves do u bbc??

  • rate this

    Comment number 924.

    unbelievable what next? expensenes topping 100 million? time to stop paying this licence fee and get everyone online and watch for free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 923.

    Between 2010 and 2012, the project cost the corporation £98.4m

    Thats over £110,000 per day for 720 days.

    I simply wish I was on a contract in that period!

  • rate this

    Comment number 922.

    My best mate worked on this project. He's taking me for a spin in his Aston Martin at the weekend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 921.

    Remember all that nonsense about the expense of running the messageboards? Remember all that nonsense about the makeover the boards got just before they closed?
    Meanwhile all this was going on!
    How much did they sell Television Centre for?
    How much did they overspend on revamping Broadcasting House?
    How much did they payoff the previous DG?
    It beggars belief!

  • rate this

    Comment number 920.

    For a £98 million ' mess up' can we expect Purnell 'walk', with no golden handshake or gilt edged pension? Like hell! Dock the £98 million from executive pension fund; they never seem to get the numbers wrong in that department!

  • rate this

    Comment number 919.

    Mr Patten are you considering your position? I do not want to see another news report with you stood out side the BBC saying that " these events are regrettable and a full independent investigation is underway............." or words to that effect. Get in touch and I will tell you the results of the investigation and the statements that will be issued.

    Enjoy the weekend

  • rate this

    Comment number 918.

    I guess they are abandoning the TV license fines too?

    I know someone who could not pay the fee and was taken to court, now its £900,what a joke.
    Europe what a joke, we are the only mug's who pay this tax.

    And as normal, the Tories have got their buddy's posting, God knows why anyone bothers posting any comments on here.
    Real stories never get the opportunity to comment, so I suppose, fair dues

  • rate this

    Comment number 917.

    I didn't think my statement would go down too well & I appreciate your loyalty to the BBC as they entertain millions of couch-potatoes hourly! The last time I saw anything resembling sport on the BBC was on their zillion dollar sports centre where the caption said " CURTESY OF SKY SPORTS" and if you don't know the score look away now! TA-TA

  • rate this

    Comment number 916.

    Overall what the BBC has done with digital is world-beating. Sadly, this bold initiative failed, but if you don't strive for excellence you don't achieve. If there has been malpractice heads should roll, but don't stifle innovation in the one brilliant institution the UK still has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 915.

    So PWC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) are going to investigate the reasons....Hmmm, at what cost? Was that tendered? Will it be made public?

    "Siemens environmental portfolio is audited by PriceWaterhouse Coopers."

    No chance of a conflict of interest then. Allegedly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 914.

    The all too familiar, 'lessons will be learned' hyperbole again! For far too long, the BBC have blundered along, making programmes that nobody watches,and generally being profligate with licence income,whilst paying their senior staff top money and massive pension deals. Isn't it about time someone 'walked the plank' because nobody ever seems to! Who the hell does this monster answer to; anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 913.

    If this were Sky then I doubt anyone would be too bothered. Yes, it's fair to call this a waste of OUR money (because it is) but even though the TV licence is effectively mandatory, I still think the BBC's overall output is pretty good value at £12 a month. I wouldn't mind knowing what percentage of our income tax or council tax gets 'wasted' - I suspect it's probably far higher.

  • rate this

    Comment number 912.

    897. Jayron I suspect that what happened is that production staff were never consulted and management tried to impose a system on the staff. A system which did not work.

    That is what they have done in the past.
    The sharing of digital material has been a daily occurrence in all media companies since the 1980s. It is easy to achieve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 911.

    I don't know enough about the internal workings of the BBC or this digital project to express a properly informed opinion.

    I hope that helps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    Submitted an e-petition (takes up to 7 days) to HM Gov e-petitions for Community,Culture & Leisure to "Investigate wasted £100m on IT at the BBC". Will post a link if it gets approval.Hopefully, before this story 'disappears'.


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