Audiovisual Archives: Why the Record of the 20th Century Depends on Digital Archive Technology 



Richard Wright

Coordinator, EC Project Presto

Technology Manager,  BBC Information & Archives Department, UK



Audiovisual Archives are special - they capture the 20th century, with an immediacy that text cannot achieve.  The 20th century was the first to be recorded (literally).  This record is a unique development in the history of civilisation -- and is in great danger of being lost.  Audiovisual collections are mainly analogue, but their future is depends on digital archive technology.  This paper covers the status of audiovisual archives across the world, the crisis in preservation, and how digital archive technology (amongst other technologies) is being applied to preserve this unique record, and make it available to much wider public access.



Dr. Richard Wright was educated at the University of Michigan, USA and Southampton University, UK. Degrees: BSc Engineering Science 1967, MA Computer Science 1972, and Ph D in Digital Signal Processing (Speech Synthesis) 1988. He worked in acoustics, speech and signal processing for US and UK Government research laboratories (1968-76), University College London (1976-80; Research Fellow) and Royal National Institute for the Deaf (1980-90; Senior Scientist). He was Chief Designer, Cirrus Research 1990-94 (acoustical and audiometric instrumentation). He has been Technology manager, BBC Archives since 1994.


Biographical details:  Richard D Wright

Current employment:  Technology manager, BBC Information & Archives since 1994.


International work:

  • BBC project manager on EC project Presto-Space (starts 01.02.2004; 40 months, 37 partners; €20M budget);  Presto-Space is about making archive preservation technology affordable and available to all audiovisual collections, not just large broadcasters

  • Head of European Broadcasting Union panel on Future Radio Archives (2000-2002)

  • Overall Project Manager for EC-sponsored project PRESTO (Broadcast Archive Preservation Technology; 24 months; €4.8M budget) (2000-2002); PRESTO established the concept of a high-quality, high-efficiency ‘preservation factory’ approach to broadcast archive preservation and digitisation

  • Member of EC(Delos)/NSF Working Group on Spoken Word Archives (2001-2002)

  • Member of Advisory Committee for “TRECVID” = annual international video retrieval evaluation exercise (host: US National Institute of Standards and Technology)


UK work for JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, the providers of technology in the university sector)

  • Represents BBC on JISC/NSF project Spoken Word (with Glasgow Caledonian, Northwestern and Michigan State Universities; 2003-2008)

Spoken Word is about using audio archives in higher education

  • Advisor to JISC Digitisation Programme (Stuart Dempster)

  • Invited speaker, JISC/CNI 2004 Conference


Citizenship:  US and UK

Residence:     lived and worked in London since October 1974;

born and raised in USA (1946 to 1974)


Education:   Michigan State University BSc Engineering Science 1967

University of Michigan MA Computer Science 1972

Southampton University PhD in Digital Signal Processing (Speech Synthesis) 1988 


Previous employment:

  • Worked in acoustics, speech and signal processing for US and UK Government research laboratories (1968-76)

  • University College London (1976-80; Research Fellow)

  • Royal National Institute for the Deaf (1980-90; Senior Scientist)

  • Chief Designer, Cirrus Research 1990-94 (acoustical and audiometric instrumentation)


Main Publications:

  • Signal Processing Hearing Aids, British Soc of Audiology (publ) 1992.

  • EBU T-3293: Core Metadata for Radio Archives; this document has been adopted by the Scandinavian archives, and others, as the basis for all their broadcast metadata (not just radio)

  • Numerous technical articles; the most recent is a metadata article for the EBU technical review, which was selected for its ‘best of 2003’ selection of articles.

  • Numerous technical presentations


Relevant websites:



EBU work:





Recent articles available on the web:

Content management and broadcast archive preservation


Preservation and access to the audiovisual heritage documents/corfu27280603.pdf


Broadcast Archives: Preserving the Future prg_115000680.html


The Future of Spoken Word Archive Technology