The original British Broadcasting Company was founded in 1922 by a group of six telecommunications companies—Marconi, Radio Communication Company, Metropolitan-Vickers, General Electric, Western Electric, and British Thomson-Houston—to broadcast experimental radio services. The first transmission was on 14 November of that year, from station 2LO, located at Marconi House, London.
The Company, with John Reith as general manager, became the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927 when it was granted a Royal Charter (this expires in July 2017) of incorporation and ceased to be privately owned. To represent its purpose and values, the Corporation adopted the coat of arms, incorporating the motto “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation”. Experimental television broadcasts were started in 1932 using an electromechanical 30 line system developed by John Logie Baird. The broadcasts became a regular service (known as the BBC Television Service) in 1936, alternating between a Baird mechanical 240 line system and the all electronic 405 line Marconi-EMI system. The superiority of the electronic system saw the mechanical system dropped early the following year. Television broadcasting was suspended from 1 September 1939 to 7 June 1946 during the Second World War. A widely reported urban myth is that, upon resumption of service, announcer Leslie Mitchell started by saying, “As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted …” In fact, the first person to appear when transmission resumed was Jasmine Bligh and the words said were “Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh …?”
The European Broadcasting Union was formed on 12 February 1950, in Torquay with the BBC among the 23 founding broadcasting organisations.
Competition to the BBC was introduced in 1955 with the commercial and independently-operated television network ITV. However, the BBC monopoly on radio services would persist into the 1970s. As a result of the Pilkington Committee report of 1962, in which the BBC was praised for the quality and range of its output, and ITV was very heavily criticised for not providing enough quality programming, the decision was taken to award the BBC a second television channel, BBC2, in 1964, renaming the existing service BBC1. BBC2 used the higher resolution 625 line standard which had been standardised across Europe. BBC2 was broadcast in colour from 1 July 1967, and was joined by BBC 1 and ITV on 15 November 1969. The 405 line VHF transmissions of BBC 1 (and ITV) were continued for compatibility with older television receivers until 1985.
Starting in 1964 a series of pirate radio stations (starting with Radio Caroline) came on the air, and forced the British government finally to regulate radio services to permit nationally-based advertising-financed services. In response the BBC reorganised and renamed their radio channels. The Light Programme was split into Radio 1 offering continuous “Popular” music and Radio 2 more “Easy Listening”. The “Third” programme became Radio 3 offering classical music and cultural programming. The Home Service became Radio 4 offering news, and non-musical content such as quiz shows, readings, dramas and plays. As well as the four national channels, a series of local BBC radio stations was established.
In 1974, the BBC’s teletext service, Ceefax, was introduced, created initially to provide subtitling, but developed into a news and information service. In 1978 BBC staff went on strike just before the Christmas of that year, thus blocking out the transmission of both channels and amalgamating all four radio stations into one.
Since the deregulation of the UK television and radio market in the 1980s, the BBC has faced increased competition from the commercial sector (and from the advertiser-funded public service broadcaster Channel 4), especially on satellite television, cable television, and digital television services.
The BBC Research Department has played a major part in the development of broadcasting and recording techniques. In the early days it carried out essential research into acoustics and programme level and noise measurement.
The 2004 Hutton Inquiry and the subsequent Report raised questions about the BBC’s journalistic standards and its impartiality. This led to resignations of senior management members at the time including the then Director General, Greg Dyke. In January 2007, the BBC released minutes of the Board meeting which led to Greg Dyke’s resignation. Many commentators have considered the discussions documented in the minutes to have made Dyke’s ability to remain in position untenable and tantamount to a dismissal.
Unlike the other departments of the BBC, BBC World Service is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, more commonly known as the Foreign Office or the FCO, is the British government department responsible for promoting the interests of the United Kingdom abroad.
On 18 October 2007, BBC Director General Mark Thompson announced a controversial plan to make major cuts and reduce the size of the BBC as an organisation. The plans include a reduction in posts of 2,500; including 1,800 redundancies, consolidating news operations, reducing programming output by 10% and selling off the flagship Television Centre building in London. These plans have been fiercely opposed by unions, who have threatened a series of strikes, however the BBC have stated that the cuts are essential to move the organisation forward and concentrate on increasing the quality of programming.
BBC Media Brands
BBC Yorkshire headquarters are in Leeds. In the UK, BBC One and BBC Two are the BBC’s flagship television channels. Several digital only stations are also broadcast: BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News channel, BBC Parliament, and two children’s channels, CBBC and CBeebies. Digital television is now in widespread use in the UK, with analogue transmission being phased out by December 2012.
BBC One is a regionalised TV service which provides opt-outs throughout the day for local news and other local programming. These variations are more pronounced in the BBC ‘Nations’, i.e. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where the presentation is mostly carried out locally on BBC One and Two. BBC Two variations within England are currently rare, though most regions still have the ability to ‘opt out’ of the main feed, albeit on analogue only. BBC Two was also the first channel to be transmitted on 625 lines in 1964, then carry a small-scale regular colour service from 1967. BBC One would follow in December 1969.
A new Scottish Gaelic television channel, BBC Alba, was launched in September 2008. It is also the first multi-genre channel to come entirely from Scotland with almost all of its programmes made in Scotland. The service is currently only available via satellite and cable television.
In the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands, the BBC channels are available in a number of ways. In both countries digital and cable operator carry a range of BBC channels these include BBC One, BBC Two and BBC World News, although viewers in the Republic of Ireland may receive BBC services via ‘overspill’ from transmitters in Northern Ireland or Wales, or via ‘deflectors’ – transmitters in the Republic which rebroadcast broadcasts from the UK, received off-air, or from Digital Satellite.
From 9 June 2006, the BBC began a 6-12 month trial of High-definition television broadcasts under the name BBC HD. The corporation has been producing programmes in the format for many years, and states that it hopes to produce 100% of new programmes in HDTV by 2010.
Since 1975, the BBC has also provided its TV programmes to the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), allowing members of HM Forces serving all over the world to watch and listen to their favourite programmes from home on two dedicated TV channels.
In 2008, the BBC began experimenting with live streaming of certain channels in the UK, and in November 2008, all standard BBC television channels were made available to watch online.
Historically, the BBC was the only (legal) radio broadcaster based in the UK mainland until 1967, when University Radio York (URY), then under the name Radio York, was launched as the first (and now oldest) legal independent radio station in the country. However, the BBC did not enjoy a complete monopoly before this as several Continental stations (such as Radio Luxembourg) broadcast programmes in English to Britain since the 1930s and the Isle of Man based Manx Radio began in 1964.
In recent years some further national stations have been introduced on digital radio platforms including Five Live Sports Extra (a companion to Five Live for additional events coverage), 1Xtra (for black, urban and gospel music), 6 Music (less mainstream genres of music), BBC 7 (comedy, drama & children’s programming) and BBC Asian Network (British South Asian talk, music and news in English and in many South Asian languages), a station which had evolved from BBC Local Radio origins in the 1970s and still is broadcast on Medium Wave frequencies in some parts of England. In addition the BBC World Service is now also broadcast nationally in the UK on DAB.
There is also a network of local stations with a mixture of talk, news and music in England and the Channel Islands as well as national stations (Nations’ radio) of BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru (in Welsh), BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (in Scots Gaelic), BBC Radio Ulster, and BBC Radio Foyle.
For a worldwide audience, the BBC produces the BBC World Service funded by the Foreign Office, which is broadcast worldwide on shortwave radio, and on DAB Digital Radio in the UK. The World Service is a major source of news and information programming and can be received in 150 capital cities worldwide, with a weekly audience estimate of 163 million listeners worldwide. The Service currently broadcasts in 33 languages and dialects (including English), though not all languages are broadcast in all areas.
In 2005, the BBC announced that it would substantially reduce its radio broadcasting in Thai language (closed in 2006) and Eastern European languages and divert resources instead to a new Arabic language satellite TV broadcasting station (including radio and online content) in the Middle East to be launched in 2007.
Since 1943, the BBC has also provided radio programming to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, which broadcasts in countries where British troops are stationed.
All of the national, local, and regional BBC radio stations, as well as the BBC World Service, are available over the Internet in the RealAudio streaming format. In April 2005, the BBC began trials offering a limited number of radio programmes as podcasts.
BBC Radio 1 is carried in the United States and Canada on XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.
BBC News is the largest broadcast news gathering operation in the world, providing services to BBC domestic radio as well as television networks such as the BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC World News, as well as BBC Red Button, Ceefax and BBC News Online. New BBC News services that are also proving popular are mobile services to mobile phones and PDAs. Desktop news alerts, e-mail alerts, and digital TV alerts are also available.
Ratings figures suggest that during major crises such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings or a royal funeral, the UK audience overwhelmingly turns to the BBC’s coverage as opposed to its commercial rivals. On 7 July 2005, the day that there were a series of coordinated bomb blasts on London’s public transport system, the BBC Online website recorded an all time bandwidth peak of 11 Gb/s at 12:00 on 7 July. BBC News received some 1 billion total hits on the day of the event (including all images, text and HTML), serving some 5.5 terabytes of data. At peak times during the day there were 40,000 page requests per second for the BBC News website. The previous day’s announcement of the 2012 Olympics being awarded to London caused a peak of around 5 Gbit/s. The previous all time high at BBC Online was caused by the announcement of the Michael Jackson verdict, which used 7.2 Gbit/s.
The BBC’s online presence includes a comprehensive news website and archive. It was launched as BBC Online, before being renamed BBCi, then bbc.co.uk, before it was rebranded back as BBC Online. The website uses GeoIP technology and carries advertisements when viewed outside of the UK. The BBC claims the site to be “Europe’s most popular content-based site” and states that 13.2 million people in the UK visit the site’s more than two million pages each day. According to Alexa’s TrafficRank system, in July 2008 BBC Online was the 27th most popular English Language website in the world, and the 46th most popular overall.
A new version of the BBC website was launched in December 2007, with the new site enabling the user to customise the BBC’s internet services to their own needs. This, on 28 February 2008, was made permanent.
The website allows the BBC to produce sections which complement the various programmes on television and radio, and it is common for viewers and listeners to be told website addresses for the website sections relating to that programme. The site also allows users to listen to most Radio output live and for seven days after broadcast using the BBC iPlayer platform, which launched on 27 July 2007, and uses peer-to-peer and DRM technology to deliver both radio and TV content of the last seven days for offline use for up to 30 days. Also, through participation in the Creative Archive Licence group, bbc.co.uk allowed legal downloads of selected archive material via the internet. As of February 2008 the BBC has also offered television programmes for download on Apple iTunes under the studio title “BBC Worldwide”.
BBC Jam was a free online service, delivered through broadband and narrowband connections, providing high-quality interactive resources designed to stimulate learning at home and at school. Initial content was made available in January 2006 however BBC Jam was suspended on 20 March 2007 due to allegations made to the European Commission that it was damaging the interests of the commercial sector of the industry.
In recent years some major on-line companies and politicians have complained that the bbc.co.uk website receives too much funding from the television licence, meaning that other websites are unable to compete with the vast amount of advertising-free on-line content available on bbc.co.uk. Some have proposed that the amount of licence fee money spent on bbc.co.uk should be reduced—either being replaced with funding from advertisements or subscriptions, or a reduction in the amount of content available on the site. In response to this the BBC carried out an investigation, and has now set in motion a plan to change the way it provides its online services. bbc.co.uk will now attempt to fill in gaps in the market, and will guide users to other websites for currently existing market provision.