BBC Television is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The corporation, which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal charter since 1927, has produced television programmes from its own studios since 1932, although the start of its regular service of television broadcasts is dated to 2 November 1936.
The domestic TV BBC television channels are broadcast without any commercial advertising and collectively they account for more than 30% of all UK viewing. The services are funded by a television licence.
History of BBC Television
The BBC operates several television networks, television stations (although there is generally very little distinction between the two terms in the UK), and related programming services in the United Kingdom. As well as being a broadcaster, the corporation also produces a large number of its own programmes in-house, thereby ranking as one of the world's largest television production companies.
1932 to 1939
Mechanically scanned, 30-line television broadcasts by John Logie Baird began in 1929, using the BBC transmitter in London, and by 1930 a regular schedule of programmes was transmitted from the BBC antenna in Brookmans Park. Television production was switched from Baird's company to what is now known as BBC One on 2 August 1932, and continued until September 1935. Regularly scheduled electronically scanned television began from Alexandra Palace in London on 2 November 1936, to just a few hundred viewers in the immediate area. The first programme broadcast – and thus the first ever, on a dedicated TV channel – was "Opening of the BBC Television Service" at 3pm. The first major outside broadcast was the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May 1937. The service was reaching an estimated 25,000–40,000 homes before the outbreak of World War II which caused the service to be suspended in September 1939. The VHF broadcasts would have provided an ideal radio beacon for German bombers homing in on London, and the engineers and technicians of the service would be needed for the war effort, in particular the radar programme.
1946 to 1964
Television transmissions resumed from Alexandra Palace in 1946. The BBC Television Service (renamed "BBC tv" in 1960) showed popular programming, including drama, comedies, documentaries, game shows, and soap operas, covering a wide range of genres and regularly competed with ITV to become the channel with the highest ratings for that week. The channel also introduced the science fiction show Doctor Who on 23 November 1963, which went on to become one of Britain's most iconic and beloved television programmes.
1964 to 1967
BBC TV was renamed BBC1 in 1964, after the launch of BBC2 (now BBC Two), the third television station (ITV was the second) for the UK; its remit, to provide more niche programming. The channel was due to launch on 20 April 1964, but was put off the air by a massive power failure that affected much of London, caused by a fire at Battersea Power Station. A videotape made on the opening night was rediscovered in 2003 by a BBC technician. In the end the launch went ahead the following night, hosted by Denis Tuohy holding a candle. BBC2 was the first British channel to use UHF and 625-line pictures, giving higher definition than the existing VHF 405-line system.
1967 to 2003
On 1 July 1967, BBC Two became the first television channel in Europe to broadcast regularly in colour, using the West German PAL system that is still in use today although being gradually superseded by digital systems. (BBC One and ITV began 625-line colour broadcasts simultaneously on 15 November 1969). Unlike other terrestrial channels, BBC Two does not have soap opera or standard news programming, but a range of programmes intended to be eclectic and diverse (although if a programme has high audience ratings it is often eventually repositioned to BBC One). The different remit of BBC2 allowed its first controller, Sir David Attenborough to commission the first heavyweight documentaries and documentary series such as Civilisation, The Ascent of Man and Horizon.
In 1967 Tom and Jerry cartoons first aired on BBC One, with around 2 episodes shown every evening at 5 pm, with occasional morning showings on CBBC. The BBC stopped airing the famous cartoon duo in 2000.
David Attenborough was later granted sabbatical leave from his job as Controller to work with the BBC Natural History Unit which had existed since the 1950s. This unit is now famed throughout the world for producing high quality programmes with Attenborough such as Life on Earth, The Private Life of Plants, The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet.
National and regional variations also occur within the BBC One and BBC Two schedules. England's BBC One output is split up into fifteen regions (such as South West and East), which exist mainly to produce local news programming, but also occasionally opt out of the network to show programmes of local importance (such as major local events). The other nations of the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) have been granted more autonomy from the English network; for example, programmes are mostly introduced by local announcers, rather than by those in London. BBC One and BBC Two schedules in the other UK nations can vary immensely from BBC One and BBC Two in England.
Programmes, such as the politically fuelled Give My Head Peace (produced by BBC Northern Ireland) and the soap opera River City (produced by BBC Scotland), have been created specifically to cater for some viewers in their respective nations, who may have found programmes created for English audiences irrelevant. BBC Scotland produces daily programmes for its Gaelic-speaking viewers, including current affairs, political and children's programming such as the popular Eòrpa and Dè a-nis?. BBC Wales also produces a large amount of Welsh language programming for S4C, particularly news, sport and other programmes, especially the soap opera Pobol y Cwm ('People of the Valley'). The UK nations also produce a number of programmes that are shown across the UK, such as BBC Scotland's comedy series Chewin' the Fat, and BBC Northern Ireland's talk show Patrick Kielty Almost Live.
The BBC is also renowned for its production of costume dramas, such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and contemporary social dramas such as Boys from the Blackstuff and Our Friends in the North. The BBC has come under pressure to commission more programmes from independent British production companies, and indeed is legally required to source 25% of its output from such companies by the terms of the Broadcasting Act 1990. Programmes have also been imported mainly from English-speaking countries: notable—though no longer shown—examples include The Simpsons from the United States and Neighbours from Australia. Because of the availability of programmes in English, few programmes need use sub-titles or dubbing unlike much European television.
The BBC also introduced Ceefax, the first teletext service, starting in 1974. This service allows BBC viewers to view textual information such as the latest news on their television. CEEFAX has not made a full transition to digital television, instead being replaced by the new interactive BBCi service.
In March 2003 the BBC announced that from the end of May 2003 (subsequently deferred to 14 July) it intended to transmit all eight of its domestic television channels (including the 15 regional variations of BBC 1) unencrypted from the Astra 2D satellite. This move was estimated to save the BBC £85 million over the next five years.
While the "footprint" of the Astra 2D satellite was smaller than that of Astra 2A, from which it was previously broadcast encrypted, it meant that viewers with appropriate equipment were able to receive BBC channels "free-to-air" over much of Western Europe. Consequently, some rights concerns have needed to be resolved with programme providers such as Hollywood studios and sporting organisations, which have expressed concern about the unencrypted signal leaking out. This led to some broadcasts being made unavailable on the Sky Digital platform, such as Scottish Premier League and Scottish Cup football, while on other platforms such broadcasts were not disrupted. Later, when rights contracts were renewed, this problem was resolved.
On 5 July 2004, the BBC celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its television news bulletins (although it had produced the Television Newsreel for several years before 1954). This event was marked by the release of a DVD, which showed highlights of the BBC's television coverage of significant events over the half-century, as well as changes in the format of the BBC television news; from the newsreel format of the first BBC Television News bulletins, to the 24-hour, worldwide news coverage available in 2004. A special edition of Radio Times was also produced, as well as a special section of the BBC News Online website. In 2005 The pioneering BBC T.V. series Little Angels won a BAFTA award. Little Angels was the first reality parenting show and its most famous episode saw Welsh actress Jynine James try to cope with the tantrums of her six-year old son.
The BBC Television department headed by Jana Bennett was absorbed into a new, much larger group; BBC Vision, in late 2006. The new group is part of larger restructuring within the BBC with the onset of new media outlets and technology.
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.
In October 2013, the BBC announced its World War I centenary season which includes 130 newly commissioned programmes.
The BBC domestic television channels do not broadcast advertisements; they are instead funded by a television licence fee which TV viewers are required to pay annually. This includes viewers who watch real-time streams of the BBC's channels online or via their mobile phone. BBC TV international channels are funded by advertisements and subscription.
Free-to-air in the UK
These channels are also available outside the UK in neighbouring countries e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands.
- BBC One
- The Corporation's primary network, broadcasting mainstream comedy, drama, documentaries, films, news, sport, and some children's programmes. BBC One is also the home of the BBC's main 30-minutes news bulletins, currently shown at 1:00 pm, 6:00 pm, and 10:00 pm and overnight bulletins from BBC World News every Monday to Sunday. The main news bulletins are followed by local news. These are provided by production centres in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and a further 14 regional and sub-regional centres in England. The centres also produce local news magazine programming.
- Most watched programme: EastEnders.
- Shutdown of all UK analogue television stations began in 2008 and finished in October 2012, leaving only digital transmission for terrestrial services.
- A high definition simulcast, BBC One HD, launched on 3 November 2010.
- A one hour timeshift, BBC One +1, was announced in October 2013.
- BBC Two
- Home to more specialist programming, including comedy, documentaries, dramas, children's programming and minority interest programmes, as well as imported programmes from other countries, particularly the United States. An important feature of the schedule is Newsnight, a 50-minute news analysis programme shown each weeknight at 22.30. There are slight differences in the programming for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The most notable is a separate final 20 minutes for Newsnight broadcast in Scotland.
- Most watched programme: Top Gear.
- A high definition simulcast, BBC Two HD, launched on 26 March 2013.
- BBC Three
- Home to mainly youth-oriented programming, particularly new comedy sketch shows and sitcoms.
- A high definition simulcast, BBC Three HD, launched on 10 December 2013.
- BBC Four
- Niche programming for an intellectual audience, including specialist documentaries, occasional 'serious' dramas, live theatre, foreign language films and television programmes and 'prestige' archive television repeats.
- A high definition simulcast, BBC Four HD, launched on 10 December 2013.
- BBC News
- A dedicated news channel. Time-shares with BBC World News 01:00–06:00 daily
- A high definition simulcast, BBC News HD, launched on 10 December 2013.
- BBC Parliament
- The Corporation's dedicated politics channel, covering both the UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, and international politics.
- For children aged six and above.
- A high definition simulcast, CBBC HD, launched on 10 December 2013.
- For children under six.
- A high definition simulcast, CBeebies HD, launched on 10 December 2013.
Other public service
- Although this Welsh language channel is not operated by the Corporation, the BBC contributes programmes funded by the licence fee as part of its public service obligation. The BBC used to broadcast Welsh-language programmes on its own channels in Wales, but these were transferred to S4C when it started broadcasting in 1982.
- BBC Alba
- A part-time Scottish Gaelic digital-only channel. Although it carries the BBC name, it is a partnership between the BBC and MG Alba, with the majority of funding coming from the Scottish Government via MG Alba. Scottish Gaelic programmes are also shown on BBC Two in Scotland – subject to approval from the BBC Trust, they will move to BBC Alba after digital switchover.
- BBC World News
- An international, commercially-funded twenty-four-hour news channel, not officially available to UK viewers but is shown on BBC News/BBC One/BBC Two between 1am-5.30am and two editions 11:30am-12:00pm on BBC Two/ 19:00–19:30 on BBC Four.
The BBC's wholly owned commercial subsidiary, BBC Worldwide, also operates several international television channels under BBC branding:
- BBC America
- A US general entertainment channel, distributed in co-operation with Discovery Networks, showcasing British television programming.
- BBC Canada
- A Canadian general entertainment channel, co-owned with Shaw Media.
- BBC HD
- A high-definition channel, currently available in Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, and Turkey.
- BBC Kids
- A Canadian children's programming channel co-owned with Shaw Media.
- BBC Entertainment
- Broadcasts comedy, drama, light entertainment and children's programming by BBC and other UK production houses, available in the following regions: Asia, Europe/Middle East, India, Latin America, Nordic, Poland, and South Africa.
- BBC Lifestyle
- Lifestyle programming, currently available in Poland, Scandinavia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Africa.
- BBC Knowledge
- Documentaries and factual programming, currently available in Australia, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Indonesia, New Zealand, Poland, Scandinavia, Singapore, and South Africa.
- BBC UKTV
- An entertainment channel in Australia and New Zealand, carrying drama and comedy programmes from the BBC, Talkback Thames, ITV, and Channel 4.
- BBC First
- An upcoming entertainment subscription television channel featuring drama and comedy programming. Set to launch on August 2014.
The BBC also co-owns the following channels in joint ventures with other broadcasters:
- Commercial television network in the United Kingdom, co-owned with Scripps Networks Interactive. The channels broadcast mainly BBC archive and specially produced programming.
- BBC Persian
News channel that targets Persian-speaking countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the Persian/Dari/Tajiki language.
BBC Japan was a general entertainment channel, which operated between December 2004 and April 2006. It ceased operations after its Japanese distributor folded.
- List of television programmes broadcast by the BBC
- History of BBC television idents
- BBC television drama
- BBC Local Radio
- BBC World Service
- British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., for a history of the BBC prior to 1927.
- Timeline of the BBC for an overview of BBC history.
- Early television stations
- Radio Times – The Journal of the BBC, issue dated 27 October 1957: The 21st Anniversary of BBC Television
- "Total viewing summary Oct 7 – Oct 13 2013". BARB. Retrieved 27 October 2013. "% viewership of all TV viewing: BBC1 (20.2), BBC2 (5.8), BBC3 (1.4), BBC4 (1.0), CBBC (0.6), Cbeebies (1.2), BBC News (1.0) = 31.2% of total viewer minutes relative to all other channels"
- Radio Times for that date
- TV Technology 8. Britain In Colour – and UHF. Screenonline, Richard G. Elen. Retrieved: 26 November 2010.
- BBC Vision Press release BBC Press Office
- BBC One and BBC Two to be simulcast from 27 November