Programme Index – telling the story of BBC broadcasting, programme by programme


Ever wondered what programmes were showing on the day you were born? Or how many BBC shows have featured Sir David Attenborough? Or what programmes have been made about your favourite sports team, musician or artist?

The BBC’s new Programme Index can answer all these questions. But it is not just a source of fascinating broadcast trivia – it provides a window into BBC history – and social history, told through radio and TV.

Programme Index, like BBC Genome before it, is a spine of data – this time stretching back nearly 100 years. You can use it to browse nearly 10 million network and regional BBC radio and TV listings, including scans of the earliest Radio Times magazines, and to search more than 200,000 programmes that you can watch on BBC iPlayer and listen to on BBC Sounds.

The background
BBC Genome, the precursor to Programme Index, was the BBC’s first database to provide audiences with an overview of our historical programmes listings. It shows broadcast schedules for most weeks between 1923-2009, as printed in the listings magazine, Radio Times.

Since its inception in 2014, BBC Genome has been a work in progress and we have introduced many changes and improvements to the website over the years. With help from a host of fantastic volunteer editors who have picked up on the small typographical errors that come with scanning and converting what’s in millions of listings into plain text, we’ve accepted nearly 900,000 edits that have been submitted to our listings. We now display four decades of the Radio Times magazine on the website and we link through to thousands of programmes on iPlayer and Sounds.

We are now entering a new phase of this archive project – to bring the website up to the present day, adding millions of extra listings and keeping the index permanently refreshed so that the very latest schedules are added.

The new data
From 2007 onwards, the BBC’s broadcast information has been captured on a system called PIPs (Programme Information Platform), which powers programme pages, iPlayer and Sounds. It is that data that we are using to fill in the recent gaps in BBC Genome.

This new data stream brings with it enormous advantages – many of these listings automatically link through to available programmes, as well as containing rich metadata that is now more searchable than ever. For the first time, you will see a huge number of regional channels and World Service listings, as well as information about programme genres and contributor data from 2007 onwards.

Our approach
One of the challenges with adding this new, rich data source has been how to show it alongside our BBC Genome data. It has taken time and we’ve thought carefully about how to show the extent of the new listings without undermining the structure of our existing listings. For those of you who have already used BBC Genome, you will find that all the functionality and features remain intact, but we now have a more sophisticated search function and more ways of searching across the two data sets.

New search filters mean that you can now either include or exclude specific genres, brands, channels and contributors from searches – using a simple toggle button in the shape of an eye. For example, searching ‘maths’ and clicking on the eye to show only programmes related to ‘learning’ gives lots of options of programmes available on iPlayer to help with maths homework.

Why are we doing it?
How can we truly understand the BBC, or the history it reported on, without having a full picture of its programmes? That’s what we’re trying to achieve here.

Programme Index is for everyone – from historians and researchers to people of all ages who are interested in delving into the archives. It tells a history of the UK and the wider world in a huge range of radio and TV broadcasts – encompassing news, documentaries, current affairs, drama, entertainment and music. We want to give a long view to the public, and this extensive collection of broadcasting shows us how society and attitudes have changed through the years.

It’s free to view in the UK and beyond. It’s a tool to reminisce, to explore, to find out more about people and programmes. Research a famous person – current or historical; look up a favourite series or search for a theme of interest.

Keen gardeners who want to view every mention of tulips will find 232 results in Programme Index, including all those programmes that are currently available to watch. Refine your results by adding filters or selecting specific dates or different media types.

About the author

Olivia Wilson
By Olivia Wilson


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