British Pathé and the historic newsreel brand’s digital future on YouTube

Bringing new meaning to content overload British Pathé recently uploaded its entire archive of historic news real footage, some 85,000 films in total, to YouTube.

The move last month proved a boon to the local UK press (with plenty of variations on this ‘historic Sutton Coldfield videos‘ story appearing), not to mention students of everything from the Cold War to the British Invasion.

Healthcare too makes periodic appearances, including the above video, a Ministry of Information film on making effective use of healthcare resources during wartime, a look at new needle-free injections and demands from doctors for a 24% salary increase.

Commenting on the move Alastair White, general manager of British Pathé, said:

“Our hope is that everyone, everywhere who has a computer will see these films and enjoy them.

“This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten. Uploading the films to YouTube seemed like the best way to make sure of that.”

Running to around 3,500 hours of video British Pathé certainly built a phenomenal collection of newsreel footage between 1896 and 1976, but what will be interesting will be to see how the material is used now.

The attention-grabbing embarrassment of riches (over here the Titanic, over there Muhammad Ali) overshadows the driving force behind the huge expansion of British Pathé’s content online and its future direction.

The project is being managed by German company Mediakraft, which lays claim to being the largest online television channel in central Europe and plans “new programming centered around the enormous library of British Pathé”.

The company added that it will be working with British Pathé to “create additional original programming which will place the historic videos in a contemporary context to fit the demands of modern audiences”.

What this new content might look like has yet to be seen, but Mediakraft’s first challenge would appear to be explaining British Pathé films, typically screened in cinemas before the featured film was shown, to the YouTube generation. (Cue one slightly annoying man.)

British Pathé and Mediakraft are also keen to harness the power of the crowd, hoping YouTube users will comb the video collection for previously unnoticed material. “It is very likely,” they note, “that the community will find hidden gems in the enormous video library, that have not been discovered by the archivists yet.”

The release of the video archive is also a feather in the cap of YouTube, which managed to refrain from pointing out that Vimeo didn’t get the archive.

Instead Anna Gayner, manager of UK News Partnerships for YouTube, said:

“We are thrilled to offer a global platform for these iconic videos and to work together with such pioneering companies in making this content available to 1 billion users worldwide. This is a very exciting step in hosting the audiovisual archive of the world’s history.”

(Whether or not the video collection will lessen the effect created by London-based duo Public Service Broadcasting remains to be seen.)


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