About BFI Replay

What is BFI Replay?

BFI Replay is a new, free-to-access, digital archive from the BFI (British Film Institute), exclusively available in UK public lending libraries. 

It is the result of one of the UK’s largest mass digitisation programmes, all of the titles have been drawn from the vaults of the BFI National Archive and partner UK Regions and Nations Film Archives.

The content uncovers stories from across the UK, its history and its people. Vividly captured in over 60 years of film, television and video from all corners of the UK — what we, our parents and carers, grandparents and communities watched. 

The platform provides access to 1000s of precious videotapes through the meticulous replay and digitisation of collections from across the UK, lovingly collected and cared for by archivists for over half a century.

What is videotape?

Videotapes comprise very special formulations of polyester carrier and magnetic coatings which contain the magnetic patterns that decode into both pictures and sound. The earliest videotape format in wide used was 2 inch Quadruplex, an American invention by Ampex, introduced in 1956. 

The BFI Lottery-funded mass national digitisation programme has identified dozens of different videotape format types, which span both professional and amateur use from the early 1960s to around 2010. Videotapes were recorded using both analogue and digital recording systems, utilising more cumbersome reel to reel video tape recorders (VTRs) in the earlier days before the advent of more commonly encountered videocassette recorders (VCRs) and camcorders. 

With advances in technology and the digital file revolution, videotape has moved past its original uses (acquisition recording, editing, and broadcast playback) and is now pretty much the preserve of archives and personal collections. The death of tape for video recording was predicted as early as 1995, when the Avid nonlinear editing system was demonstrated storing video clips on hard disks. Yet videotape was still used extensively, especially by consumers, up until about 2004, when DVD based digital camcorders became affordable at consumer level and domestic computers incorporated large enough hard drives to store an acceptable amount of video.

Why does the quality of the sound and image in the video vary?

The history of video tape recording spans some 60 years and its legacy covers a very wide range of technical specifications; everything from the most prestigious broadcast television productions, right through to amateur camcorder footage. With such diversity of technologies, methods of recording sound and uses over many decades, it is to be expected that the quality of video recordings varies enormously and in some cases there may be incomplete sound and inconsistencies which are not normally experienced when viewing professionally made programmes. 

Why don’t all the videos have subtitles/audio-description?

At present we are not able to provide subtitles or audio description due to the vast amount of titles on the platform. There may, however, be some content provided by archives with closed captions already in place. The BFI Replay service is under continual development and our policy on subtitles, closed captions and speech to text technologies will be reviewed as the service develops.

Why may some material be considered offensive or upsetting?

As content spans several decades, some videos include language and attitudes — including racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic attitudes — that may have been common or widely tolerated at the time but are unacceptable today. Other videos may include content that is justifiable in context (for example, images of medical procedures) but may nevertheless be upsetting or triggering for some.

The BFI and the Regions and Nations Film Archive partners take our role as guardians and curators of our screen heritage very seriously, and have devoted many hundreds of hours to viewing archival material to ensure selection of the most interesting, entertaining and historically valuable content.

We have taken careful steps to exclude wholly unacceptable material from the platform, and to identify and label any sensitive material with appropriate content and/or trigger warnings.  However, the BFI and our partners have not been able to view everything and therefore can’t guarantee that all such sensitive content may have been identified.

Why can I only see a limited amount of programmes?

As with many film/television archives, the BFI and the Regions and Nations Archives do not own the intellectual property rights to the majority of its collections. In order to make them available on BFI Replay significant work has been carried out to research titles and collections, identify and locate rights holders and obtain their permissions.  

The BFI has identified hundreds of different rights holders from public service broadcasters and production companies, brands, charities, educational institutions and individual filmmakers, negotiating agreements so that the collections can be viewed and enjoyed on BFI Replay.

Why are some titles only available in Welsh or another language other than English?

While most of the content on BFI Replay is in the English language, there are some titles from both BFI and regions and nations archives that are not. Unless provided by the original broadcaster, it has not been possible to create subtitles or closed captions for these.

Content provided which are in the Welsh language will generally have the Welsh title as the preferred title displayed next to the video. An English equivalent title may also be present in the underlying data which will enable users to discover content which may also be known by their English title.

Who are the British Film Institute (BFI)?

The BFI believes society needs stories. Film, television and the moving image bring them to life, helping us to connect and understand each other better. The BFI shares the stories of yesterday, searches for the stories of today, and shapes the stories of tomorrow. 

As a cultural charity governed by Royal Charter — and the UK’s lead organisation for film, television and the moving image – our mission is to: Support creativity and actively seek out the next generation of UK storytellers, Grow and care for the BFI National Archive, the world’s largest film and television collection and offer the widest range of UK and international moving image culture through our programmes and festivals — delivered online and in venue, use our knowledge to educate and deepen public appreciation and understanding of screen culture and work with Government and industry to ensure the continued growth of the UK’s screen industries.

BFI National Archive

The BFI looks after one of the largest and most important collections of film and television in the world. Its teams of experts ensure that the collection is preserved and developed for future generations and made widely accessible to today’s audiences.

A world leader in film preservation and guardian of the UK’s film and TV heritage, the BFI is an innovator in presenting its archive to audiences in new and dynamic ways. From cinemas to festivals, outdoor events to video-on-demand services, ensuring access to our shared film heritage is central to the organisation’s activities.

UK Regions and Nations Film Archives

The English Regional Film Archives and National Film Archives of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are responsible for the care of many of the UK’s most significant film and videotape collections alongside the BFI National Archive. These public access film archives hold significant collections of film and video material relevant to their regions; or hold dedicated collections such as Imperial War Museums, preserved in specialised storage facilities and made widely available for education, research and public enjoyment. 

The UK Regions and Nations Film Archives have worked in close partnership with the BFI National Archive on the development and design of BFI Replay.  Ensuring that over 100,000 fragile videotapes are digitised and safely preserved for future generations and now, through BFI Replay, making sure as many as possible can be seen and enjoyed by the public.