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The BBC's digitally televised revolution

By digitizing its huge archive of programs and making some shows available free on the Net, the BBC hopes to help usher in a second, public-minded phase of the digital revolution.

The British Broadcasting Corp., the United Kingdom's largest broadcaster, plans to digitize its archive and let people download programs for free online, BBC Director-General Greg Dyke said Sunday.

"The BBC probably has the best television library in the world," Dyke said while speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. "Up until now, this huge resource has remained locked up, inaccessible to the public because there hasn't been an effective mechanism for distribution. But the digital revolution and broadband are changing all that."

"For the first time, there is an easy and affordable way of making this treasure trove of BBC content available to all," Dyke said.

The BBC runs two public TV stations, a 24-hour cable news channel, five national radio networks, an Internet news service and digital cable stations. It also operates BBC Worldwide and BBC Broadcast Limited, which run international TV stations. Dyke said the corporation plans to create the BBC Creative Archive to make select material from BBC properties available for private use in the United Kingdom. A student using a broadband connection from home or the library, for example, could access BBC material to help complete homework or create a multimedia presentation, he said.

Dyke did not say in his speech when such a free service would be available.

The move comes as many media companies transition their holdings from analog to digital, and contemplate ways to benefit from content commercially. Companies such as CNN and Walt Disney are digitizing their media, while others such as National Geographic begin to sell rights to legacy material such as photography.

The BBC's effort will help usher in a "second phase of the digital revolution," in which the government, public institutions and corporations help create public, rather than commercial, value in their holdings, Dyke said. He added that such a movement requires a commitment from all parties and will combine public money with new digital technologies for social good.

"I believe that we are about to move into a second phase of the digital revolution, a phase which will be more about public than private value; about free, not pay services; about inclusivity, not exclusion."