Exploring Ina: the French National Audiovisual Institute

Elsa Coupard (Ina – Multimedia Department)
Printable version Friday 02 March 2012 Last updated at 15:48

The National Audiovisual Institute was founded in 1974. Its mission was and is to collect, preserve, restore and communicate France’s radio and television archives, which add up to over 70 years of radio programmes and 60 years of television programmes.

With over four million hours of radio and television stored, Ina’s collections are some of the largest broadcast archives in the world. Soon after launching a digitization plan for its endangered archives in 1999, Ina introduced a digital recording policy for television and radio broadcasts. Since the legal deposit was extended by law to radio and television broadcast in 1995, the collections have expanded to 100 television channels and 20 radio channels recorded around the clock, 7 days a week, for legal deposit purposes. Moreover, as audiovisual content has gradually been shifting online and in order to ensure continuity and coherence of its collections Ina is now also responsible for archiving websites that are related to the broadcast industry including official programme websites, blogs and fan websites. This became a legal requirement for the Institute in 2006.

The purpose of Ina’s collection and as an organization is two fold. Ina has been archiving the public terrestrial radio and television broadcasts for professional purposes since 1945, and marketing these archives to professionals. Some of these have been made available online for the general public. Within the legal deposit framework Ina has also been archiving programmes from all national terrestrial radio and television broadcasters since 1995, cable and satellite channels since January 2002 and DTT channels since 2005. These “legal deposit” archives are intended for heritage purpose and may only be accessed for study and research.

Ina has had a policy of making its archives available for educational and cultural purposes and since 27 April 2006 (shortly before YouTube was launched), the general public has had direct access to over 300,000 television and radio programmes on the Ina.fr website, where programmes can be viewed, downloaded or even ordered via an on-demand DVD service. This news clip from 2006 documents the launch of this new service.

A brief history of television in France
Key milestones in French television history can be revisited on the EUscreen portal. The first television experiments in France took place in 1931. In 1937, the general public discovered television at the Universal Exposition in Paris, where the first live report in France was carried out in the studio. On the eve of the Second World War, while radio was listened to by thousands of French people, television broadcast only one or two hours of programmes a day, mostly entertainment shows. At the time, there were only a few hundred TV sets, mostly located in public places.

Yet, Ina has a very large newsreel film collection from the Second World War period and beyond. These mostly include news reports that were screened in cinemas before the feature film. This collection spans the years between 1940 and 1969 and amounts to more than 33,000 documents, including this report from 1945 on the health consequences of Occupation.

Television really started to develop in 1949, with the introduction of a licence fee. The RTF (Radio Télévision française), a State monopoly, built modern television and took on the missions of informing, educating and entertaining. The first TV news programme, “JT”, broadcast on the 29th of June 1949

The news programme was originally made up of a series of reports filmed a few hours earlier, with a live commentary and no anchorman. Gradually, live broadcast became the standard, especially for exceptional events: in 1953, the coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II of England was simultaneously broadcast in five European countries.

In fact, following the success of the event, the EBU (European Broadcasting Union - an association of national television and radio broadcasters) created Eurovision, a network for exchanging programmes and broadcasting events between member countries. In 1956, Eurovision held its first song contest, which became increasingly successful with France taking Eurovision victory in 1977.

Directors such as Claude Santelli, Claude Barma, Marcel Bluwal and Stellio Lorenzi presented “dramas” (TV films), literary shows including this Interview with Louis-Ferdinand Céline, history documentaries (La Caméra explore le temps) and science programmes that would make French television famous.

Television also offered game shows (Télé match, La tête et les jambes) and entertainment shows La Joie de vivre, 36 chandelles in which Charles Trenet performs La Mer, and La piste aux étoiles, a circus programme.

In the 60s, huge numbers of TV sets were sold in France. General de Gaulle was in power and included television in his policy for a Great France. In 1964, the RTF became the ORTF (Office of French Radio and Television Broadcasting), an autonomous public establishment under control of the Ministry of Information. A second channel was created in 1964 which first introduced colour television in 1967

Programme schedules grew and attempted to reach various audiences. Television offered serials such as Janique Aimée, Thierry la Fronde and Belphégor, children’s programmes such as Bonne nuit les petits, current affairs shows including the famous Cinq Colonnes à la une, sports shows (Les Coulisses de l’exploit), Dim Dam Dom an entertainment show for women, game shows like Intervilles by Guy Lux, and many popular programmes like Au théâtre ce soir and Les Dossiers de l’écran, a feature film which introduced debates on burning issues

It was during this period that mondovision appeared, with the first satellite broadcast in 1962. On 21 July 1969, over 600 million viewers, including 30 millions in France, watched man’s first steps on the moon, broadcast live.

After the May 1968 protests and the social unrest that followed in France, television demanded freedom and independence from the authorities. It no longer intended to be the “voice of France”, as President Georges Pompidou declared in 1972.Indeed the national broadcast company (ORTF) had become a huge organisation, in 1968, advertising was introduced, programmes became more trivial, and priorities started to shift : entertainment was promoted instead of cultural programmes, a 3rd channel was created in 1972. In 1974, the newly elected President Giscard d’Estaing, shut the ORTF, “splitting it up”, supposedly for easier control, into 7 autonomous companies, including the Ina, a process which is documented here. This is when, even though still within public monopoly, French television channels started to compete for viewers.

The deregulation of the television industry in France really occurred in the 1980s. The new President François Mitterrand allowed “free” radios, abolished public monopoly and declared broadcasters independent from Government by creating an independent regulatory authority, now known as the CSA (Higher Audiovisual Council). The first private channels were created: Canal+ (1984), a subscription channel focussing on sport and cinema, then La Cinq (1985) and TV6 (1986). TF1 was privatised in 1986. President Mitterrand was also behind the creation of a Franco-German cultural channel, Arte, which came on air in 1989. In 1992, the two public service channels, France 2 and France 3, were brought together into one structure: France Télévisions, which now also includes France 4, France 5 and France Ô (formerly Radio France Outremer, for Overseas France).

Thematic channels appeared in 1986 on cable, then via satellite in 1992. And DTT (digital terrestrial television, which replaced analogue television in late 2011), launched in 2005 offering several free channels.

On the EUscreen portal, there is a selection of about 1,000 archives from Ina’s collection, A starting point for browsing and reflecting on the main highlights of French television. The themes guiding the selection are common to all contributors who supply archives to the project, so as to enable a comparative approach to the history of televisions in Europe. Researchers, media historians and students will find food for thought … and eventually for papers, which we hope will disseminate and trigger curiosity for the content within our archives.



Elsa Coupard has been editorial coordinator at Ina Hypermedia studio since 2006. She previously graduated in History and Cinema from the University of Provence.


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