BBC suspends CTO after failed £100 million CMS

BBC suspends CTO after failed £100 million CMS

Summary: The broadcasting company's tapeless digital archive project burned through taxpayer money and caused nothing but "chaos," according to a new report.


The BBC, Britain's public broadcasting service, has reportedly suspended chief technology officer John Linwood after declaring its five-year, £100 million project to convert the organization's extensive video archives a failure.

The project, dubbed the Digital Media Initiative, intended to create a working production system that also gave its users easy access to volumes of archival footage. But the project was nothing but trouble, according to a report in The Guardian, blocking editors' access to footage for inclusion in high-profile breaking news reports and causing them to literally carry, via public transit and hired taxi, tapes from the company's physical archive in northwest London.

Tara Conlan and Charles Arthur report:

In an email to all BBC staff on Friday, director-general Tony Hall said he was halting DMI and admitted: "We have a responsibility to spend licence-fee payers' money as if it was our own and I'm sorry to say we did not do that here."

One insider called the DMI project "the axis of awful", while another source said: "The scale of the project was too big and it got out of hand."

Linwood, a Yahoo and Microsoft veteran, was responsible for the project. He has temporarily been replaced by BBC News head of technology Peter Coles.

Damningly, one BBC Trust member wrote to a member of parliament that the publicly-funded organization was "throwing good money after bad." The £98.4 million project was projected to save £95.4 million by halving the amount of video-handling needed to call up such footage, and was apparently 21 months behind schedule after only 24 months of development.

One member of Y Combinator's Hacker News community had tough words for the project.

"It serves as both a cautionary tale on outsourcing and a good example of when to recognise a sunk cost," jumblesale7 wrote. "The technology surrounding what they were trying to achieve has changed massively in that time frame but doesn't excuse them from delivering nothing of value."

Topics: Storage, Government UK

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • As long as they got many of the early Dr Who's preserved,

    then it couln't have been THAT bad. :)
    William Farrel
  • I'm sorry, but it's depressingly hilarious..

    This is the kind of nonesense that only comes from publically funded projects. Can you imagine any company with an annual shareholders meeting approving this project?

    The meeting:
    'So as you know, our near century of archives reside on their original film. This costs us lots of money to convert every time we use it, it's prone to fire and damage.'
    'Yes, but what can we do?'
    'Well I was thinking if we convert it all at once, we only pay once - no more handling or conversion?'
    'That sounds productive, what do you need?'
    '100 million pounds'
    'And five years'
    'How does this make us money?'
    'Well it might save us money one day'
    'Get out.'

    They would then take that idea and work out a cheaper way of doing it.
    • Not sure if it's nonsense

      Of course, the other side of this is that a shareholder-funded company would not be able to do any sort of big-picture, long-term endeavors, because the shareholders are obsessed with quarterly profits to the absolute detriment of the long run.

      It's like the old saying: "Pay me now or pay me later." In other words, you can either take a big hit up front, or run the risk of having to take an even bigger hit (or at least a series of little hits that work out to more than the initial big hit would have cost) down the road.
      Third of Five
  • platform

    Wonder, was it based on Windows?

    In that case the winner is Microsoft, as they got their license money anyway :)
    This is where the millions of Windows 8 licenses might have gone.
    • I bet.... was not based on Microsoft technology. After all, BBC avoids Microsoft. However, time will tell.
      • It was open source

        Nothing to do with either Microsoft or Windows. I believe that a lot of the development was done in Perl. The guy who was technical lead (and isn't there any more) listed his skills as Java, Hibernate, MySQL, Tomcat, Perl, Linux, Apache, REST web services, among others.
        Jack Schofield
    • Agnostic my arse...

      Flying your anti-MS flag high today, aren't you? I thought you were indifferent to the success or failure of any one company?
  • Surprising...

    If I was in charge of such a project, I'd contact YouTube & have them set up a private version...
  • Surprising...

    If I was in charge of such a project, I'd contact YouTube & have them set up a private version...