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Digitising the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s archives

– an innovation project


The Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) Cultural Heritage Project is a digitisation and innovation scheme that does not just aim to digitise Danish cultural heritage in the form of radio and television programmes from the DR archives; it also sets out to make cultural heritage accessible to all Danes. Over the course of the project, DR has reduced the market cost of digitisation, created a new digital platform for content sharing, and helped build a network that collaborates to find best practice models. This article describes two cases, each based on collaboration, showcasing how sharing has had a great impact on development and innovation work. Indeed, sharing has allowed DR to generate a great deal of additional value from the funds (DKK 75 million, corresponding to EUR 10 million) originally allocated in the Public Service contract 2007-2010 to digitising the DR programme archives.

As DR’s Cultural Heritage Project is reaching its final stages, the work is now focusing on various collaborative projects that help to identify how the digital cultural heritage can be presented and made accessible in ways that make it easy to use and share it.

The project has a wide scope and is focused on three core tasks: digitising the DR archives, providing access to our cultural heritage, and creating collaborations that cut across the culture sector, partly via editorial work and partly through technology sharing schemes. Focusing on these tasks has fostered viable, sustainable innovation that has helped optimise the digitisation process, enabling us to digitise more than 70 % of the DR programme archives at this point. This result far exceeds the 25 % originally expected when funding was allocated and the project was launched in 2007. The current objective is to have around 80% of the archived programmes digitised when the earmarked funds have been spent in 2014. Furthermore it is now clear that the project has been a catalyst for a wide range of collaborative projects all focusing on our shared cultural heritage.

Case 1 – Joint dissemination and technology sharing schemes in the culture sector

In the DR Cultural Heritage Project, the main focus of DR’s endeavours is to promote dialogue between our shared cultural heritage and the general public. The project wishes to encourage interactive usage rather than just passive consumption. DR should not only provide access to as much data as possible; it should also allow for various forms of active use of the material.

Therefore, DR has joined forces with a range of public cultural institutions to collaborate on developing new ways of enhancing and promoting access to – and the presentation of – our shared cultural heritage. The collaborative scheme is the first of its kind in Denmark and offers opportunities for examining how different and separate collections can enrich each other and bring a wider range of perspectives into play when presenting the Danish cultural heritage digitally. Usually, the collaborations consist of activities and projects pertaining to the domain or the media handling system Cultural Heritage Archive Open System (CHAOS:\_). can be described as a lab dedicated to the dissemination of Danish cultural heritage, but it is also a search engine that provides access to digitised content made available by the various institutions. At present, users can access more than 140,000 digitised objects from Danish cultural heritage supplied by e.g. the Royal Library, the Danish State and University Library, the Danish State Archives, the Danish Film Institute, the National Museum of Denmark, Statens Museum for Kunst, DR, and KUNSTEN in Aalborg – and more material is added regularly.

The long-term objective of is to enable Danish citizens to develop their own services and to create new contexts in which users can seek out and explore cultural heritage content for educational as well as entertainment purposes. To this end, has for example made an open API available in 2013 and participates in events such as #hack4dk.*1

If you combine the right content and the right technical tools you can give rise to an infinite number of projects presenting Danish cultural heritage to the public. DR’s Cultural Heritage Project has developed a number of tools in order to fully encompass and embrace this notion. Within the collaboration of we have developed mobile apps, workshops, online exhibitions and events. The many different activities and projects explore a wide range of usage and presentation of our digital cultural heritage.

As a result, can combine data and content from different sources, handle it on different platforms and in an unlimited number of usage situations. DR has developed the system CHAOS:\_ in collaboration with e.g. the Danish State and University Library, SMK, the LARM Audio Research Archive and KUNSTEN. CHAOS:\_ continues to evolve as new technologies become available and capable of handling various individual requirements from different partners.

The various collaborators, or partners, can choose to get involved in several different ways. Their involvement ranges from supplying data that is searchable on, to actively participating or even carrying out major projects themselves. Some partners use the collaborative set-up to jointly develop a product portfolio; e.g. Kulturarv Nord where ten members (e.g. Skagens Museum, KUNSTEN, and Nordjyllands Kystmuseum) are currently developing a range of different iPhone applications. [1]

[1] Ivan Dehn, DR (leftside), and ars Ulrich Tarp Hansen, KUNSTEN (rightside) presenting and CHAOS:\_ at Museums and the Web 2013.  CC BY-SA 4.0 The DR Cultural Heritage Project

[1] Ivan Dehn, DR (leftside), and ars Ulrich Tarp Hansen, KUNSTEN (rightside) presenting and CHAOS:\_ at Museums and the Web 2013.
CC BY-SA 4.0 The DR Cultural Heritage Project

In addition to being a technical system, CHAOS:\_ is also an open source collective that allows partners to use the existing technology to whatever extent they wish. Their day-to-day usage of the system and the new requirements revealed through such use helps prompt further development of the technology and system. When more people use the system and continue its development, we all benefit in the form of greater cost-efficiency and optimised operation. The partners share the lessons learned over the course of their individual development work, and at the same time, they reap the benefits of existing functions and functions developed and funded by other parties.

Partners in the CHAOS:\_ set-up can access the API and use a range of plug-ins for e.g. Wordpress and Drupal. These tools allow users to incorporate objects and collections from and to pull out data to external applications or websites. The only requirement is that the content must comply with any rights restrictions applying to the material in question.

Case 2 – Digitisation and collaboration with a private enterprise

In 2005, DR relocated to its new premises, where a partial goal was to make the entire production apparatus digital, and this included the archives (“The Five Finger Plan”, DR, 1999). The digitization of DR’s program archive has contributed to DR’s involvement in sharing content and technology with the culture sector. DR’s archives contain a wealth of radio and television programmes, storing 478,000 hours of radio and 100,000 hours of television and film footage. In DRs Cultural Heritage Project, the focus is on industrialised mass-digitisation methods that reduce the cost of the work, allowing DR to digitize content at the lowest possible price while still maintaining the required quality.

When it comes to digitizing DR has chosen that it is important to digitize everything within the collections because the entire archive is part of the national heritage. Furthermore it is very difficult, subjective and costly to select within the archives. The order of digitisation is determined by the threat of deterioration; content that is most at risk of deterioration is digitised first. Several new formats are less durable than older ones, which means that in many cases, content preserved on newer storage formats have been digitised first.

One of the main results yielded by the process is the development of technologies and working methods that have optimised digitisation processes and thereby greatly reduced costs compared to existing market prices. In collaboration with the Belgian sound digitisation company Memnon, DR has developed new digitisation processes that has reduced international price levels from approximately EUR 50 per hour to a rate of less than EUR 3 per hour when digitizing DAT tapes.

The reduction in price was a consequence of the implementation of internal and external workflows and new methods that simplified the process while removing manual and physical bottlenecks. This method can be described as based on “transparent boxes”.*2 In contrast to a “black box”, the concept of “transparent boxes” employs an open form of outsourcing where both parties can use each other’s competencies and insights at various stages in the workflow; a much more flexible approach compared to specifying both the given input, process and output.

These new processes evolved while digitising DR’s collection of DAT tapes; a collection which encompasses more than 180,000 tapes, each with two hours of playing time. It was – and to this day probably still remains – the world’s largest DAT digitisation effort. A work that could not be delayed as the collection was at risk of deterioration.

When the project was launched, DR did not have the hardware or expertise required for industrialised digitisation of DAT tapes, so after a tender process, the corporation entered into a partnership with Memnon. One of the criteria stipulated in the tender process was that the successful bidder must enter into close co-operation with DR on developing new digitisation processes. That particular requirement reflected DR’s wish to have the entire collection digitised at a cost corresponding to EUR 3 per hour or a total of EUR 1.2 million for the entire collection – a target price so low that it would require the development of new methods previously unseen in the market.

The radical reduction in price is partly a result of overall developments in technology: Better and cheaper technology regularly becomes available. However, the key factor was the process optimization created through the use of the “transparent boxes” and the new digitization methods it helped DR and Memnon to develop together both in the physical and technical domain.

Sharing generates value

The DR Cultural Heritage Project is not yet concluded, but the project clearly demonstrates that sharing is an important parameter for success within the digital cultural sector. While digitising its archives, DR has shared knowledge and information with other stakeholders – inside the DR organisation and externally – thereby creating new knowledge, optimising methods, and developing new technology that has speeded up the digitising work. Furthermore, other international broadcasters and AV archives have been allowed to share in the lessons learned by DR, meaning that those organisations now use the same processes to digitise their own archives, enjoying the same savings that DR achieved. [2]

The project has focused on developing an open platform capable of facilitating proper presentation and dissemination of the Danish digital cultural heritage. Ideally, all cultural institutions should be able to use this platform to ensure that digital collections can enrich each other across institutional boundaries, and at the same time they will, jointly and separately, have the opportunity to develop new digital products.

Such products can offer users new and better access to the history shared by all Danes, allowing it to be re-contextualised in accordance with the various cultural institutions’ individual strategies and technological opportunities. In other words, sharing knowledge, experiences, methods, means, and technologies is essential in order to allow everyone in the cultural sector to optimise their work and expenditure – and in order to avoid having numerous institutions spend money on developing systems that others are already working on.

[2] Uffe Elbæk, former Minister of Culture, giving the opening speech at the launch of, 12 September 2012 in the DR-City. CC BY-SA 4.0 The DR Cultural Heritage Project.

[2] Uffe Elbæk, former Minister of Culture, giving the opening speech at the launch of, 12 September 2012 in the DR-City.
CC BY-SA 4.0 The DR Cultural Heritage Project.


*1. Read more in Jacob Wang’s article p. 178 ff.
*2.  Golodnoff & Lerkenfeld 2011.


The Danish Ministry of Culture, Media Policy Agreement (“Mediepolitisk aftale
for 2007-2010”), 6 June 2006, no updates, 10 April 2013,

Golodnoff & Lerkenfeld, Exploring Cultural Heritage and Value Creation – A Case Study of DR’s Cultural Heritage Project, August 2011, 10 April 2013,

The Five Finger Plan: DR in Ørestaden. Draft work schedule (“Femfingerplanen: DR i Ørestaden. Udkast til en arbejdsplan.”). Prepared by DR, 6 May 1999.

Emmanuel Hoog (then President of Ina and FIAT), World call for the preservation of broadcast archives, October 2004, 10 April 2013,

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Updated: 26.apr.2018
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