Researchers are to get access to more than 100 years of filmed news coverage thanks to a £10 million deal with ITN.
The deal, brokered by the Joint Information Systems Committee and the British Universities Film and Video Council, will give researchers access to footage - much of it never broadcast - dating back to the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896.
The resource, called "Newsfilm Online", will include 12 million still images recently created from British Pathe newsreel.
Murray Weston, director of the BUFVC, said that there was no legal responsibility to preserve moving pictures and sound in the way there was for text, which is stored at copyright libraries such as the British Library.
"A can full of footage that has not been seen to be important at the time may have huge value to us. Having high-quality brains focusing on it as an academic resource will mean finding stuff that has been hidden," he added.
For example, during the BUFVC/ITN scoping study, senior researcher Jeff Hulbert discovered unseen footage of the Suez crisis, the first major world news event to receive televised coverage. The only identifier on the cans of film was the name of the cameraman, whom Mr Hulbert knew had been at the scene.
The ITN archive, a commercial operation, is already one of the most extensive sound and picture archives in the world.
The deal sees a groundbreaking "in perpetuity" copyright agreement that allows footage to be made available permanently instead of being subject to renegotiation on a rolling basis as is usual.
Initially, 6,000 hours of footage from ITN's 500,000 hours will be made available to download rather than just streamed over the internet.
The difficulty will be in choosing the footage as schools and colleges require specific curriculum-driven pieces, whereas academics would prefer a broader spread.
The project is the first of a series on digitisation funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.