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From Belfast to the Beeb ... to a Box Set?

@U2, May 15, 2006
By: Matt McGee


A current BBC effort to open up its vast archives should pave the way for at least one new U2 video release. So says Marc Marot, who's been consulting with the BBC for two years about how to take advantage of the broadcaster's extensive collection of audio and visual material.

The video in question would be a rarity: a four-camera shoot of U2's concert at Queen's University in Belfast on January 23, 1981. Marot says it was one of the first U2 videos the BBC uncovered when he began working with them in the spring of 2004.

"It's a full half-hour," Marot says. "It's a stereo recording in really good quality. And nobody even knew it existed. It's sitting there in the archive, ready to roll. It was only ever broadcast once, in Belfast, which is Irish BBC. It's never been [shown] anywhere else in the world."

The BBC, as a public broadcaster, is required by law to archive all of the recordings that it makes. Their archive goes back to 1937, and includes more than 500 million feet of film and 400,000 hours of video. And now the BBC wants to catalog it all and share what they find. An "experimental prototype" of the BBC archive is already available to be searched online, and includes a listing for U2's Belfast concert.

Of all the types of programming in the BBC archive, music recordings present a unique challenge.

"The problem with [music recordings] is that the BBC, whilst they specifically own the materials -- the film -- they don't have any broadcast rights anymore," Marot explains. "And whilst the record companies and publishing companies own the rights to the music, they don't own the rights to the film, so they can't do anything with it, either."

His plan? Have the BBC give audiovisual / DVD rights to the record companies, and have the record companies give reprogramming and repurposing rights back to the BBC to make programs.

The good news for U2 fans is that Universal Music, whose music roster includes U2, signed on last year -- the first major label to partner with the BBC. The agreement means the two are working together to identify BBC program material which can be released commercially by Universal, and/or used as new broadcast programming by the BBC.

That should include the 1981 U2 concert in Belfast. Marot, who worked closely with U2 during his 16 years with Island Records, says he doesn't know for sure what Universal's plans are, but he imagines the concert would be released as part of a larger box set that's already written into U2's current recording contract.

"I think that probably this thing will only get to see the light of day when the box set comes out," Marot says, referring to a box set that Island Records is authorized to issue in the future under U2's current record deal (see Pt. 2 of our Marc Marot interview). "I could quite imagine that there would also be a DVD box set that would come out along the lines of the Led Zeppelin one or the Beatles one. I can imagine that they'll clean it up and release it in its entirety, but only at the most appropriate time. I don't think it's gonna come out in isolation; it's gonna be part of something big."

© @U2, 2006.

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