If you’ve ever viewed filmed content by BBC, you would see that the closing credits are usually dated in Roman numerals. While Roman numerals are in widespread use even today, they are hardly ever called upon to represent large numbers. The simple reason is that they are quite cumbersome to use, and might make a large number look even larger! Why then is the film industry so obsessed with them?
There are two theories that answer this. First off is the deception theory, which intends to deceive viewers as to the age of the show. By displaying the year of origin in roman numerals, BBC makes it virtually impossible for us to decipher the number. By the time we’ve had the hang of the cryptic combination; the credits have already rolled by. The purpose is to make the production look new, very much similar to the case of women hiding their ages! Old content is generally viewed with less excitement and belief.
The second explanation is the inertia theory. Simply put, it’s done because we’ve been doing it since ages. When films were initially made, roman numerals were in vogue and were automatically used in dating. Over the ages, the quality of film has rapidly increased, but the traditions have stuck. It is also held that roman numerals are more visible than the Arabic numerals, and initially when film reels used to degrade, the roman numerals still stood out.
So we see that the roman numerals do have a purpose behind their use. BBC just wants to ensure that their content is not considered stale, and they date it with numerals that are not quickly readable. It is quite a common practice, and one that considered part and parcel of the film industry.