Saturday, 7 January 2012

An interesting enquiry - and happy 2012!

Where on earth do I start with this one?
 So my first post of 2012 - happy new year to all!

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog from the outset was talk a little bit about any unusual enquiries we receive in the law library! I think the most unusual one that I was asked to tackle in the week before Christmas was trying to find out how many times a well known and long-running cartoon has been broadcast in the UK. It was definitely one of those questions where you read it and think to yourself, where on earth do I start?!

General internet searching (if in doubt, turn to Google - although obviously we don't tell the trainees that!) threw up a whole host of references to the cartoon, but one of the initial problems was that it has been broadcast on a whole range of terrestrial and satellite/cable channels. Therefore it was not simply going to be a case of contacting one particular channel or broadcasting company.

I approached it ultimately in a sort of two-pronged approach. Firstly, I decided to try and ascertain if there exists some kind of database that holds all this kind of information about TV broadcasts, and secondly, to contact the BBC, who seemed to be the principal terrestrial broadcaster. I was of the opinion that with this kind of enquiry, we would be lucky to obtain any kind of data, therefore even if I was only able to obtain information from them, it might be sufficient to give the fee-earner a general indication of how often the programme has been shown. Experience has taught me that sometimes even just a bit of information will be better than nothing.

I had hoped to get through to the archives department of the BBC, but this was a fruitless task which involved being past from pillar to post, but never quie seeming to reach anyone who could assist me.I ended up being put through to the audience enquiries department, who were certainly very polite and sounded like they wanted to help, but were unable to answer such a query over the phone. I was asked to put the request in writing in order for one of the researchers to look at it. I have to admit that I was quite hopeful about this, although the fact it was 4 days before Christmas, and the information was needed early in the first week of January at the latest, I didn't hold out much hope in hearing from them before the deadline. Anyway, I sent the letter and moved onto my other approach.

Various internet searches led me to the British Film Institute as a potential source of information. I spoke to someone in the library first of all, who said that they do not have access to this kind of information, but suggested that I contact the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) as they would have access to some databases that might be able to help.

It turns out that there are some databases out there that comprise of TV show broadcast information! One is called TRiLT, the other TvTip. The only problem - and it's a big problem! - is that they are for academic research purposes only.

TvTip (this covers the period from 1955-1985)
TVTip provides a unique searchable index to the London edition of the TVTimes, the listings magazine for ITV broadcasts, from September 1955 to March 1985.

TRILT - Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (this covers TV listings from the period 1995-present)
The Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching is the best source of UK television and radio data on the web.
 - Listings for more than 300 TV and radio channels since 1995

Admittedly this means there would be a gap in the data as the period from 1985-1995 is not covered, but again, if I could just access those databases, we would be able to get a very good broad overview of how frequently the show was broadcast.

The only way that we would be able to access the databases would have been to become corporate members of the aforementioned BUFVC. Unfortunately, it was prohibitively expensive when the fee-earner determined how much use we would actually get out of it apart from for this enquiry. However, I was very fortuate indeed to speak to someone at the BUFVC who was willing to do a very basic query on the TV show name for me on the TriLT database. This threw back a specific number of results and covered terrestrial/cable/satellite channels. Any more in-depth research could only be performed if we were members.

In light of the tight deadline and the difficulties involved in obtaining this kind of information, the fee-earner decided that even just obtaining that number was helpful. However, since then I have been able to make contact with someone in the Archives dept at the BBC, and I am awaiting their response to see if it is something they might be able to help with - even though we are now past the deadline, I am loath to let it go! Also, it is always useful to know what information is available for future never know when you are going to be asked something so obscure again!

Image: 89studio /

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