Sound and Vision: Audio-visual heritage in the Netherlands

Printable version Friday 23 March 2012 Last updated at 13:40

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision is one of the largest audiovisual archives in Europe. Based in Hilversum, a town about 35 km from Amsterdam, Sound and Vision preserves a major part of Dutch audio-visual heritage. The collection contains over 700,000 hours of television, radio, music and film, 20,000 objects and more than 2,5 million photos. The institute collects, preserves and opens up the audiovisual archive for as many users as possible: media professionals, education, science and the general public. 

The archive moved into its characteristically colourful building in 2006. Because digitisation is an essential part of conservation, the Images for the Future project took off a year later. In this project Sound and Vision, together with EYE Film Institute Netherlands, the National Archive and the Knowledgeland foundation, aims to preserve and digitise audiovisual materials on a massive scale.  At the end of the project in 2014, 90,000 hours of video, 22,000 hours of film, 98.000 hours of audio material and over 2.5 million pictures will be digitised and made accessible to the public. A broad range of contextualisation efforts take place within the project, for example in the Sound and Vision wiki, which focuses on collecting and providing access to knowledge about audiovisual media in the Netherlands.

The collection at Sound and Vision contains the complete radio and television archives of the Dutch public broadcasters; films of virtually every leading Dutch documentary maker; newsreels; the national music depot; various audiovisual corporate collections; advertising, radio and video material of cultural and social organizations, of scientific institutes and of all kinds of educational institutions. There are also collections of images and articles from the history of Dutch broadcasting itself and of course an elaborate collection of historical television sets. 

The Institute is involved in a number of important European projects that develop tools and methodologies to bring the audiovisual archiving and museum sectors into the digital domain.  In projects such as PrestoPRIME and Prestocentre, best practices for digitisation are developed, employed and experiences shared. Sound and Vision’s R&D department participates in projects on archive disclosure and access-related themes such as technology aided manual annotation, automatic annotation strategies, internet archiving, contextualisation and user requirements. The Institute is a strong supporter of improved user access, within the framework of Europeana-linked projects, the clearest example of which is, of course, EUscreen.

The contributions to the EUscreen project comprise a variety of source materials and concern the entire time span of Dutch television history, from its early start in 1951 up until more recent times, where the rise of home computing started influencing the televisual experience. This is one of many social developments that can be tracked through the narrative that lies in television archives.

As the material reveals, the introduction of television was commemorated on its fifth birthday in 1956, when all five public broadcasters then in existence in the Netherlands celebrated the anniversary. Eleven years later, colour television was introduced with a broadcast from the Amsterdam RAI building. That same building has been host to the biggest European convention of broadcast providers, the IBC, since 1992.

On the set of Guesthouse Hommeles (VPRO, 1957).
Catalogue number 57256, photo number 8  
Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
License: CC-BY-SA

On the set of Guesthouse Hommeles (VPRO, 1957). Catalogue number 57256, photo number 8. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. License: CC-BY-SA

An early example of the breadth of this new medium was to be found in Guesthouse Hommeles, a musical comedy that enlivened Dutch households with laughter and emotion. It was the first comedy in the Netherlands, and script-writing was undertaken by the famous writer Annie M.G. Schmidt. More entertainment could also be found in game shows, such as the Willem Ruis Lotto Show, a popular programme from the 1980s, with its famously enthusiastic presenter.

On the set of That's the Way it Occasionally Goes (VARA, 1964). Catalogue number 64169, photo number 7. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. License: CC-BY-SA

In the turbulent ‘60s, current affair shows informed the fragmented Dutch television audience about the state of the world. This particular show, originally aired by VARA, ran for 42 years, up until 1992. These same affairs were critically analysed in their satirical counterparts including the show That’s the Way it Occasionally Goes based on the BBC’s That Was The Week That Was. Social satire aside, television makers and audiences in the Netherlands evidently appreciated a good round of debates, for instance the feminist talk show Ot... and what about Sien?, which began in 1975, or round table talks such as this recent example from The Gap about crime levels in 1995. The youthful audience was also not forgotten and the perennially popular Pipo the Clown remained a favourite for many years.

And of course nothing moves the Dutch volksgeist more than the annual skating event the Eleven City Tour where high speed skaters compete along a course that is over 200km long. Since the competition takes place on natural ice it can only be held when the ice is thick enough and the last time conditions were permitted the event to take place was in 1997. This clip from 1963 shows how the event captures the hearts and minds of the population.

Social factors such as colonisation, which can be seen in stately Royal visits to the oversees territories in Royal Visit to Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles (1956) were also popular with audiences. No matter how turbulent the changes in society, the royal house remained and still remains a central focus point for the national media and is strongly represented in the Sound and Vision collection because the Film archive of the RVD (State Information Service) is part of its collection.

Eurovisie Song Contest (NTS, 1958). Catalogue number 58078N, photo number 14. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. License: CC-BY-SA

As well as important political material documenting significant events, the content provided to EUscreen also focuses on issues of everyday life. This programme from 2004 addresses the issue of religion and focuses on two people of different faith swapping lives for a weekend.

This brief introduction offers a snapshot of the range of material held by Sound and Vision. All of this material and much, much more which sheds light on life in the Netherlands and on the history of Dutch broadcasting can be found on the EUscreen portal. Why not come and explore for yourself?


Erwin Verbruggen

Evelien Wolda


Erwin Verbruggen graduated in Preservation & Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam and is press officer for the EUscreen project. Evelien Wolda graduated in television history at the University of Amsterdam and performs content selection for the Open Images platform. Both work on various national and international projects in Sound and Vision’s department for Research and Development.




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