Austria’s Digital Heritage: An introduction to the ORF

Printable version Friday 25 May 2012 Last updated at 12:48

The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) is Austria’s largest media provider, operating four national television and nine regional radio channels, as well as a comprehensive range of websites. ORF is currently one of the members of the EUscreen consortium and is giving over 1500 items of digital content which will be freely available at

What is the ORF?

ORF is formally a foundation under Austrian public law and as such must fulfil a number of duties laid down in the ORF Act. Being a public service radio and television company, ORF is not profit-oriented, and invests all revenue – half of which comes from radio and TV licence fees, the rest from advertising and other income – directly into the programmes and services it provides to its ORF audiences. The ORF’s main headquarters and studios are located in Vienna, and the company also operates regional studios in all nine Federal Provinces and maintains a worldwide network of correspondents who contribute to its varied range of programmes in all three media. The ORF’s websites post the country's most coveted online news, as well as providing in-depth background information and a comprehensive set of services. Moreover, the “ORF-TVthek” features a seven-day catch-up of most television formats, allowing viewers to watch the programmes they missed online. 

The roots of ORF can be traced back to 1924. After the upheavals of World War II, thecompany began broadcasting television in 1955 and was formally re-established in 1958. In 1964, a group of newspaper editors and journalists launched the first Austrian referendum aiming to free ORF from political influence and to put an end to the proportional representation of political parties in the company's management. The referendum was a huge success (832,353 signatures and 17.27% of eligible voters), and eventually led to the ORF Act which came into being in 1967 and has been amended several times since.

ORF Documentation and Archives also runs a specialized audio-archive for TV-purposes. More than 80 documentalists, archivists, editors, historians, sound-engineers, system-developers and administrative staff work in ORF’s television archives, handling and annotating material produced every day. This work also includes digitization for the ORF’s Digital-Workflow-Newsroom which has been working tapeless since 2002. The Archive is also making almost all of its broadcast content available in a low-resolution-format for browsing purposes to all producing departments within ORF.

What’s in the archive?

The Television-Archive of the ORF holds over 2.3 million items of film and video material which equates to more than 1,200,000 hours of content which ranges from shots of the late emperor Franz Joseph to breaking news from yesterday. Items include this footage of the 4th Day of the Colours from 1959, where Austria celebrates its Neutrality (first declared in 1955), the devastating floods of 1966 and the appalling cablecar fire in Kaprun in 2000 where 150 people died, as well as this recent report of tensions at Austrian Universities from 2010.

A great deal of this archive content relates to news material and sports but the material also covers nearly every area and period since the foundation of Austrian television, proving a valuable historical resource. Much of this material focuses on Austria and its internal affairs such as this retrospective from 2004 about the mass-demonstrations against the building of a massive hydropower plant in Hainburg in 1984, this special report about guest-workers and their voting-rights from 1989 and a political interview from 1986 with Kurt Waldheim, former President of Austria, about the accusations, that he played a role in the Holocaust.

As well as material exploring Austria’s rich audio visual heritage and historical past, the ORF archive also offers an intriguing glimpse into the history of Eastern Europe. From the days of the Cold War to the late 1990s, ORF focused intensively on the Eastern-Europe-countries within its foreign-affairs-coverage. The valuable and extensive content from this period of history is available in the ORF archive and includes coverage of the visit by Austria's Federal President Dr. Adolf Schärf to the Soviet Union from 1959 and his impressions of Moscow's inner city, interviews with Czech citizens about the dramatic situation in Prague in 1968 as part of the popular series ‘Question of the Week’ and this news item from 2003 about Austria's Neutrality and its role during international conflicts. This last clip contains powerful footage of recent European conflicts including tensions on the Austria/Slovenia border, events in Prague and Budapest as well as the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

The future?

During the last decade the most important parts of ORFs archive-holdings have been transferred from MII (Panasonic Video-Format, analogue) to IMX50 (Sony Video Format, Digital, MPEG50) and DVD. Other technical formats that are still part of the archive’s holdings are 1-inch-B, Umatic, VHS, Beta-SP, 16mm, 35mm (analogue) and Betacam-Digital (digital). But these are only a small part of the whole collection.

The greatest challenge for the TV-Archive of ORF lies in the digital migration of its content and in the changing processes that lead into a digital workflow at all levels of work. ORF was part of the EUscreen-preceding projects BIRTH (2003-05) and VideoActive (2006-2009) and these projects were ORFs first attempts to make its archive-content publicly available online. None of the items which ORF contributed to these projects had ever been digitised before nor had they been made available to the public after being broadcast. The challenge for the ORF lies in bringing together work undertaken on projects like these with possible future activities for digitisation and public access.

Check out ORF’s material on the EUscreen portal and explore Austria’s audio-visual heritage. 


Michael Vielhaber works as "Contentmanager" at the ORF Archive.


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