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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster headquartered at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London.[1] It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff.[2][3][4] Its main responsibility is to provide impartial public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

The BBC is a semi-autonomous public service broadcaster[5] that operates under a Royal Charter[6] and a Licence and Agreement from the Home Secretary.[7] Within the United Kingdom its work is funded principally by an annual television licence fee,[8] which is charged to all British households, companies and organisations using any type of equipment to record and/or receive live television broadcasts;[9] the level of the fee is set annually by the British Government and agreed by Parliament.[10]

Outside the UK, the BBC World Service has provided services by direct broadcasting and re-transmission contracts by sound radio since the inauguration of the BBC Empire Service in December 1932, and more recently by television and online. Though sharing some of the facilities of the domestic services, particularly for news and current affairs output, the World Service has a separate Managing Director, and its operating costs have historically been funded mainly by direct grants from the British government. These grants were determined independently of the domestic licence fee and were usually awarded from the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As such, the BBC's international content has traditionally represented at least in part an effective foreign policy tool of the British Government. The recent BBC World Service spending review has announced plans for the funding for the world service to be drawn from the domestic licence fee.

The Corporation's "guaranteed" income from the licence fee and the World Service grants are supplemented by profits from commercial operations through a wholly owned subsidiary, BBC Worldwide Ltd. The company's activities include programme- and format-sales, magazines including the Radio Times and book publishing. The BBC also earns additional income from selling certain programme-making services through BBC Studios and Post Production Ltd., formerly BBC Resources Ltd, another wholly owned trading subsidiary of the corporation. The BBC is sometimes referred to as "Auntie" and "the Beeb". The former is also used to refer to the BBC's sister corporation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.


History of the BBC

The BBC coat of arms]] BBC Year Book 1931 BBC radio licences increase dramatically in 1929/1930. The privately owned BBC was the world's first national broadcasting organisation[11] and was founded on 18 October 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd. The original company was founded in 1922[12] by a group of six telecommunications companies Marconi, Radio Communication Company, Metropolitan-Vickers (MetroVick), General Electric, Western Electric, and British Thomson-Houston (BTH)[13] to broadcast experimental radio services. The first transmission was on 14 November of that year, from station 2LO, located at Marconi House, London.[14]

The British Broadcasting Company Ltd was created by the British General Post Office (GPO) and John Reith applied for a job with the existing company and later became its employee general manager. The company was wound-up and on 1 January 1927[15] a new non-commercial entity called the British Broadcasting Corporation established under a Royal Charter became successor in interest.

To represent its purpose and (stated) values, the Corporation adopted the coat of arms, including the motto "Nation shall speak peace unto Nation". The motto is generally attributed to Montague John Rendall, former headmaster of Winchester College, and member of the first BBC Board of Governors.[16] The motto is said to be a "felicitous adaptation" of Micah 4: 3 "nation shall not lift up a sword against nation".[17]

Experimental television broadcasts were started in 1932 using an electromechanical 30-line system developed by John Logie Baird. Limited regular broadcasts using this system began in 1934, and an expanded service (now named the BBC Television Service) started from Alexandra Palace in 1936, alternating between an improved 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.[18]

Post WW2

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 ...?"[19]

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 of 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,[20] 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 BBC1 (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".[21] 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 were established in 1967, including Radio London.[22]

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.[23][24]

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 BBC was also responsible for the development of the NICAM stereo standard.

In recent decades, a number of additional channels and radio stations have been launched: Radio 5 was launched in 1990 as a sports and educational station, but was replaced in 1994 with Radio 5 Live, following the success of the Radio 4 service to cover the 1991 Gulf War. The new station would be a news and sport station. In 1997, BBC News 24, a rolling news channel, launched on digital television services and the following year, BBC Choice launched as the third general entertainment channel from the BBC. The BBC also purchased The Parliamentary Channel, which was renamed BBC Parliament. In 1999, BBC Knowledge launched as a multi media channel, with services available on the newly launched BBC Text digital teletext service, and on BBC Online. The channel had an educational aim, which was modified later on in its life to offer documentaries.

21st century

In 2002, a number of new channels and stations were made: BBC Knowledge was renamed BBC Four and became the BBC's arts and documentaries channel. In addition, CBBC, which had been a programming strand as Children's BBC since 1985, was split into CBBC and CBeebies with both new services getting a digital channel: the CBBC Channel and CBeebies Channel. In addition to the television channels, new digital radio stations were created: 1Xtra, 6 Music and BBC7. BBC 1Xtra was a sister station to Radio 1 and specialised in modern black music, BBC 6 Music specialised in alternative music genres and BBC7 specialised in archive, speech and children's programming.

The following few years resulted in repositioning of some of the channels to conform to a larger brand: in 2003, BBC Choice became BBC Three, with programming for younger generations and shocking real life documentaries, BBC News 24 became the BBC News Channel in 2008, and BBC Radio 7 became BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2011, with new programmes to supplement those broadcast on Radio 4. In 2008 another channel was launched, BBC Alba, a Scottish Gaelic service.

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.[25]

Unlike the other departments of the BBC, the 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.

In the past few years, the BBC has experimented in high-definition television. In 2006, BBC HD launched as an experimental service, and became official in December 2007. The channel broadcasts HD simulcasts of programmes on BBC One, Two, Three and Four as well as repeats of some older programmes in HD. In 2010, a HD simulcast of BBC One launched: BBC One HD. The new channel uses HD versions of BBC One's schedule and uses upscaled versions of programmes not currently produced in HD.

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 included 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.[26] 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.

On 20 October 2010, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the television licence fee would be frozen at its current level until the end of the current charter in 2016. The same announcement revealed that the BBC would take on the full cost of running the BBC World Service and the BBC Monitoring service from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and will part finance the Welsh broadcaster S4C.[27]

Further cuts were announced on 6 October 2011, so the BBC could reach a total reduction in their budget of 20%, following the licence fee freeze in October 2010. Details include cutting staff by 2000 and sending a further 1000 to the MediaCityUK development, with BBC Three moving in 2016, the sharing of more programmes between stations and channels, sharing of radio news bulletins, more repeats in schedules, including the whole of BBC Two daytime and for some original programming to be reduced. Also, the BBC HD channel would be closed and replaced with an HD simulcast of BBC Two, however flagship programmes, other channels and full funding for CBBC and CBeebies would be retained.[28][29][30]


The BBC is a corporation, independent from direct government intervention, with its activities being overseen by the BBC Trust (formerly the Board of Governors).[31] General management of the organisation is in the hands of a Director-General, who is appointed by the Trust; he is the BBC's Editor-in-Chief and chairs the Executive Board.[32]


The BBC operates under a Royal Charter,[6] with the current Charter having come into effect on 1 January 2007 and running until 31 December 2016.[33] The Royal Charter is reviewed every 10 years.

The 2007 Charter specifies that the mission of the Corporation is to "inform, educate and entertain". It states that the Corporation exists to serve the public interest and to promote its public purposes: sustaining citizenship and civil society, promoting education and learning, stimulating creativity and cultural excellence, representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities, bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK, helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services, and taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.

This Charter also created the largest change in the governance of the Corporation since its inception. It abolished the sometimes controversial governing body, the Board of Governors, and replaced it with the BBC Trust and a formalised Executive Board.

Under the Royal Charter, the BBC must obtain a licence from the Home Secretary.[7] This licence is accompanied by an agreement which sets the terms and conditions under which BBC is allowed to broadcast.[7] It was under this Licence and Agreement (and the Broadcasting Act 1981) that the Sinn F in broadcast ban from 1988 to 1994 was implemented.[34][35]

BBC Trust

The BBC Trust was formed on 1 January 2007, replacing the Board of Governors as the governing body of the Corporation. The Trust sets the strategy for the corporation, assesses the performance of the BBC Executive Board in delivering the BBC's services, and appoints the Director-General.

BBC Trustees are appointed by the British monarch on advice of government ministers.[36] There are currently ten trustees with two vacancies, headed by the Chairman, Lord Patten of Barnes and the vice-chairman Diane Coyle. There are trustees for the four nations; England (Alison Hastings), Scotland (Bill Matthews), Wales (Elan Closs Stephens) and Northern Ireland (Rotha Johnston). The remaining four trustees are Richard Ayre, Anthony Fry, David Liddiment and Mehmuda Mian.[37]

Executive Board

The Executive Board is responsible for operational management and delivery of services within a framework set by the BBC Trust, and is headed by the Director-General, Mark Thompson. The Executive Board consists of both Executive and Non-Executive directors, with non-executive directors being sourced from other companies and corporations and being appointed by the BBC Trust.[38] The executive board is made up of the Director General, Mark Thompson, as well as the head of each of the main BBC divisions, with the exception of the BBC North Group. These at present are George Entwistle, Director of BBC Vision; Tim Davie, Director of BBC Audio & Music; Ralph Rivera, Director of Future Media; Zarin Patel, Chief Financial Officer; Caroline Thomson, Chief Operating Officer and Helen Boaden, Director of News.[39]

In addition to these members, there are also five non-executive directors, these are currently Marcus Agius, the senior non-executive director and Chairman of Barclays; Robert Webb QC, the chairman of BBC Worldwide Ltd, former General Counsel and part of British Airways; Dr Mike Lynch OBE, the co-founder and Chief Executive of Autonomy Corporation; Val Gooding, the former Chief Executive of BUPA and Simon Burke the non-Executive Director.[39]

Corporate structure

The Corporation is headed by Director General's office, which has overall control of the management and running of the BBC. Below this is the BBC Direction Group, which deals with inter departmental issues and any other tasks which the Executive board has delegated to it. Below the BBC Direction Group are the following seven departments covering all the BBC's output:[40]

  1. BBC Vision is in charge of BBC Television, of commissioning and producing television programming, of operations such as the BBC Natural History Unit and also includes the BBC Archives.
  2. BBC Audio & Music is in charge of BBC Radio and music content across the BBC, including the Music area of BBC Online, music programmes on BBC Television, events such as the BBC Proms and the numerous orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic.
  3. BBC Future Media is in charge of all digital output, such as BBC Online, the BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button service and developing new technologies through BBC Research & Development.[40]
  4. BBC Operations includes the former BBC People department in charge of employees welfare, the Technologies department, previously part of BBC Future Media, and BBC Marketing, Communications and Audience. The department as a whole looks after the employees, the upkeep of the buildings, strategy, policy, project delivery, property, legal affairs, marketing and the normal day to day functioning of the corporation.
  5. BBC Finance & Business manage the corporations expenses, long term business plans and licence fee collection. They also assign budgets to the different departments.[40]
  6. BBC News Group operate the entire BBC News operation, including the national, regional and international operations. They are in charge of all Television, Radio and Online bulletins in all operations. They are in charge of BBC Scotland, BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Cymru Wales and the BBC English Regions and the BBC Global News division.
  7. The BBC North group includes all departments based at MediaCityUK. It organised the move to Salford, and contains departments such as BBC Sport, BBC Children's, BBC Radio 5 Live as well as some sections of BBC Learning. Many of the departments in this section belong to other departments too, such as BBC Radio 5 Live which is also part of BBC Audio & Music.[40]

All aspects of the BBC fall into one or more of the above departments, with the following exceptions:

  • The BBC Trust is separate from departments as it is part of their operation to monitor the operations and departments of the corporation. The other three departments are stand-alone, due to their commercial nature.[40]
  • BBC Worldwide Ltd. operates international channels and exploits programme brands to gain addition income for BBC programmes. The BBC World News department is distributed by BBC Worldwide, but still separate. It has close links with the BBC News group, but is not governed by it.
  • BBC Studios and Post Production is also separate and officially owns and operates some of the BBC's facilities, such as BBC Television Centre.[40]


The BBC has the second largest budget of any UK broadcaster with an operating expenditure of 4.26 billion in 2009/10[41] compared to 5.9 billion for British Sky Broadcasting,[42] 1.9 billion for ITV[43] and 214 million in 2007 for GCap Media (the largest commercial radio broadcaster).[44]


The principal means of funding the BBC is through the television licence, costing 145.50 per year per household (as of April 2010). Such a licence is required to receive broadcast television across Britain, however no licence is required to own a television used for other means, or for sound only radio sets (though a separate licence for these was also required for non-TV households until 1971). The cost of a television licence is set by the government and enforced by the criminal law. A discount is available for households with only black-and-white television sets. A 50% discount is also offered to registered blind.[45]

The revenue is collected privately and is paid into the central government Consolidated Fund, a process defined in the Communications Act 2003. This TV Licensing collection is currently carried out by Capita, an outside agency. Funds are then allocated by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Treasury and approved by Parliament via legislation. Additional revenues are paid by the Department for Work and Pensions to compensate for subsidised licences for eligible over-75-year-olds.

Income from commercial enterprises and from overseas sales of its catalogue of programmes has substantially increased over recent years,[46] with BBC Worldwide contributing some 145 million to the BBC's core public service business.

According to the BBC's 2009 2010 Annual Report[47] its income can be broken down, as follows:

  • 3,446.8 million in licence fees collected from householders;
  • 888.3 million from BBC Commercial Businesses;
  • 293 million from government grants;
  • 112.9 million from other income, such as providing content to overseas broadcasters and concert ticket sales;

The licence fee has, however, attracted criticism. It has been argued that in an age of multi stream, multi-channel availability, an obligation to pay a licence fee is no longer appropriate. The BBC's use of private sector company Capita Group to send letters to premises not paying the licence fee has been criticised, especially as there have been cases where such letters have been sent to premises which are up to date with their payments, or do not require a TV licence.[48]

The BBC uses an advertising campaign to inform customers of the requirement to pay the licence fee. These letters and adverts have been criticised by Conservative MPs Boris Johnson and Ann Widdecombe, for having a threatening nature and language used to scare evaders into paying.[49][50] Audio clips and television broadcasts are used to inform listeners of the BBC's comprehensive database.[51] There are a number of pressure groups campaigning on the issue of the licence fee.[52]


The following expenditure figures are from 2010/2011 and show expenditure per service, and major department.[53]


Service Total Cost ( million)
BBC One Including Regions 1,402.9
BBC Two 528.3
BBC Three 110.1
BBC Four 67.1
CBBC and CBeebies 139
BBC News and BBC Parliament 69.1
BBC HD 11.8
BBC Alba 7.6
BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra 59.1
BBC Radio 2 59.2
BBC Radio 3 50.7
BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra 128
BBC Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra 77.8
BBC Radio 6 Music 10.8
BBC Asian Network 12.6
Nations & Local Radio 240.7
BBC Online 194.2
Total 3,169


Department Total cost ( million)
Television, including regions and productions for S4C 2,368.1
Radio 638.9
BBC Online 194.2
BBC Red Button 39.5
BBC Orchestras and Singers 24.1
Development 32.9
Digital Switchover 80.3
Licence Fee Collection 123.6
Restructuring 29.6
Total 3,531.2

Headquarters and regional offices

The headquarters of the BBC at Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London, England White City]], West London MediaCity:UK, Manchester

Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London, is the official headquarters of the BBC. It is home to three of the ten BBC national radio networks, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, and BBC Radio 4 Extra. On the front of the building are statues of Prospero and Ariel, characters from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest, sculpted by Eric Gill. Renovation of Broadcasting House began in 2002 and is scheduled for completion in 2012.

BBC Television and BBC News are currently based at BBC Television Centre, a purpose built television facility and the second built in the country located in White City, London. This facility has been host to a number of famous guests and programmes through the years, and its name and image is familiar with many British citizens. Nearby, the BBC White City complex contains numerous programme offices, housed in Centre House, the Media Centre and Broadcast Centre. It is in this area around Shepherd's Bush that the majority of BBC employees work.

As part of a major reorganisation of BBC property, the entire BBC News operation is expected to relocate from the News Centre at BBC Television Centre to the refurbished Broadcasting House to create what is being described as "one of the world's largest live broadcast centres".[54] Following completion Broadcasting House will also be home to most of the BBC's national radio stations, and the BBC World Service. The major part of this plan involves the demolition of the two post-war extensions to the building and construction of an extension[55] designed by Sir Richard MacCormac of MJP Architects. This move will concentrate the BBC's London operations, allowing them to sell Television Centre, which is expected to be completed by 2015.[56]

In addition to the scheme above, the BBC is in the process of making and producing more programmes outside of London. This involves producing more programmes at production centres such as Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff and, most notably, Manchester. As part of the scheme, several departments, including BBC North West, BBC Sports, BBC Children's, Radio 5 Live, BBC Breakfast and the BBC Philharmonic moved from their previousl locations in either London or New Broadcasting House, Manchester, to the MediaCityUK development in Salford. MediaCityUK will therefore become the biggest staffing operation outside London.[57][58]

As well as the two main sites in London (Broadcasting House and White City), there are seven other major BBC production centres in the UK, mainly specialising in different productions. Broadcasting House Cardiff, has been home to BBC Cymru Wales, which specialises in drama production. Open since October 2011, and containing 7 new studios, Roath Lock[59] is notable as the home of productions such as Doctor Who and Casualty. Broadcasting House Belfast, home to BBC Northern Ireland, specialises in original drama and comedy, and has taken part in many co-productions with independent companies and notably with RT in the Republic of Ireland. BBC Scotland, based in Pacific Quay, Glasgow is a large producer of programmes for the network, including several quiz shows. In England, the larger regions also produce some programming.

Previously, the largest 'hub' of BBC programming from the regions is BBC North West. At present they produce all Religious and Ethical programmes on the BBC, as well as other programmes such as A Question of Sport, however this is to be merged and expanded under the BBC North project, which involved the region moving from New Broadcasting House, Manchester, to MediaCityUK. BBC Midlands, based at The Mailbox in Birmingham, also produces drama and contains the headquarters for the English regions and the BBC's daytime output. Other production centres include Broadcasting House Bristol, home of BBC West and famously the BBC Natural History Unit and to a lesser extent, Quarry Hill in Leeds, home of BBC Yorkshire. There are also many smaller local and regional studios throughout the UK, operating the BBC regional television services and the BBC Local Radio stations.

The BBC also operates several news gathering centres in various locations around the world, which provide news coverage of that region to the national and international news operations.


reach]] of all the BBC's services in the UK[60]


Weekly reach of the BBC's domestic television services[60]

The BBC operates several television channels in the UK of which BBC One and BBC Two are the flagship television channels. In addition to these two flagship channels, the BBC operates several digital only stations: BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News, 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.[61]

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, and where programme schedules can vary largely from that of the network. BBC Two variations exist in the Nations, however English regions today rarely have the option to 'opt out' as regional programming now only exists on BBC One, and regional opt outs are not possible in the regions that have already undertaken the switch to digital television. 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 November 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 was initially only available via satellite but since June 2011 has been available to viewers in Scotland on Freeview and cable television.[62]

The BBC also has a HD channel, BBC HD, that launched on 9 June 2006 following a 12 month trial of the broadcasts. It became a proper channel in 2007, and screens HD programmes as simulcasts of the main network, or as repeats. The corporation has been producing programmes in the format for many years, and stated that it hoped to produce 100% of new programmes in HDTV by 2010.[63] On 3 November 2010, a high-definition simulcast of BBC One was launched, entitled BBC One HD.

In the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the BBC channels are available in a number of ways. In these countries digital and cable operators 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.

Since 1975, the BBC has also provided its TV programmes to the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), allowing members of UK military serving abroad to watch and listen to them on two dedicated TV channels.

Since 2008, all the BBC channels are available to watch online through the BBC iPlayer service. This online streaming ability came about following experiments with live streaming, involving streaming certain channels in the UK.[64]


Weekly reach of the BBC's five national analogue radio stations[60]

The BBC has ten national radio stations, six stations serving the BBC Regions and numerous others covering the Local regions in England. Of the ten national stations, five are major stations and are available on FM, DAB and online. These are BBC Radio 1, offering new music and popular styles and being notable for its chart show; BBC Radio 2, playing Adult contemporary, country and soul music amongst many other genres; BBC Radio 3, playing classical and jazz music and home to the BBC Proms; BBC Radio 4, offering current affairs, factual, drama and comedy speech programmes and BBC Radio 5 Live, broadcasting 24 hour news, sport and talk programmes.

In addition to these five stations, the BBC also runs five additional stations that broadcast on DAB and online only. These stations supplement and expand on the big five stations, and were launched in 2002. BBC Radio 1Xtra sisters Radio 1, and broadcasts new black music and urban tracks. BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra sisters 5 Live and offers extra sport analysis, including broadcasting sports that previously were not covered. BBC Radio 6 Music offers alternative music genres and is notable as a platform for new artists.

BBC Radio 7, later renamed BBC Radio 4 Extra, provided archive drama, comedy and children's programming. Following the change to Radio 4 Extra, the service has dropped a defined children's strand in favour of family-friendly drama and comedy. In addition, new programmes to complement Radio 4 programmes were introduced such as Ambridge Extra, and Desert Island Discs revisited. The final station is the BBC Asian Network, providing music, talk and news to this section of the community. This station evolved out of Local radio stations serving certain areas, and as such this station is available on Medium Wave frequency in some areas of the Midlands.

As well as the national stations, the BBC also provides regional stations. In the 'Nations', six stations serve large areas of these regions. In Scotland, these are BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, the latter providing programmes in Scots Gaelic; in Wales these are BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru, the latter providing programming in Welsh and in Northern Ireland there is BBC Radio Ulster with an opt out for the North West called BBC Radio Foyle. Furthermore, there are 40 BBC Local Radio stations in England and the Channel Islands, usually covering specific cities and their surrounding areas (Such as BBC Radio Bristol), for counties, or regions (Such as BBC Three Counties Radio), or geographic features (Such as BBC Radio Solent covering the South Coast).

As part of BBC Local Radio, the BBC also serves the Channel Islands, which strictly speaking are not part of the United Kingdom, through its TV News service and BBC Guernsey and BBC Radio Jersey. These services are funded from locally collected licence fees. However, despite this, the BBC does not offer Local Radio for the Isle of Man, primarily because the island has been served by the popular and long lasting independent commercial station, Manx Radio.

For a worldwide audience, the BBC World Service provides news, current affairs and information in 28 languages, including English, around the world and is available in over 150 capital cities. It is broadcast worldwide on shortwave radio, DAB and online and has an estimated weekly audience of 180 million listeners. Since 2005, it is also available on DAB in the UK, a step not taken before, due to the way it is funded. The service is funded by a Parliamentary Grant-in-Aid, administered by the Foreign Office, however following the Governments spending review in 2011, this funding will cease, and it will be funded for the first time through the Licence fee.[65][66] In recent years, some services of the World Service have been reduced; the Thai service ended in 2006[67] as did the Eastern European languages, with resources diverted instead into the new BBC Arabic Television.[68]

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. Today, the BBC still has some of the most popular Radio stations, with BBC Radio 2 being the most popular of the network and the most popular in the country, with 12.9 million weekly listeners in 2006.[69]

BBC Programming is also available to other services and in other countries. Since 1943, the BBC has provided radio programming to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, which broadcasts in countries where British troops are stationed. BBC Radio 1 is also carried in the United States and Canada on Sirius XM Radio (online streaming only).

The BBC is a patron of The Radio Academy.[70]


BBC News is the largest broadcast news gathering operation in the world,[71] providing services to BBC domestic radio as well as television networks such as the BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC World News. In addition to this, news stories are available on the BBC Red Button service, Ceefax and BBC News Online. In addition to this, the BBC has been developing new ways to access BBC News, as a result has launched the service on BBC Mobile, making it accessible to mobile phones and PDAs, as well as developing alerts by e-mail, digital television, and on computers through a desktop alert.

Ratings figures suggest that during major crises such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings or a Royal Event, the UK audience overwhelmingly turns to the BBC's coverage as opposed to its commercial rivals.[72] 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.[73]

Other media venues


The BBC's online presence includes a comprehensive news website and archive. It was launched as BBC Online, before being renamed BBCi, then, before it was rebranded back as BBC Online. The website is funded by the Licence fee, but uses GeoIP technology, allowing advertisements to be carried on the site when viewed outside of the UK.[74] The BBC claims the site to be "Europe's most popular content-based site"[75] and states that 13.2 million people in the UK visit the site's more than two million pages each day.[76] According to Alexa's TrafficRank system, in July 2008 BBC Online was the 27th most popular English Language website in the world,[77] and the 46th most popular overall.[78]

The centre of the website is the Homepage, which features a modular layout. Users can choose which modules, and which information, is displayed on their homepage, allowing the user to customise it. This system was first launched in December 2007, becoming permanent in February 2008, and has undergone a few aesthetical changes since then.[79] The Homepage then has links to other micro-sites, such as BBC News Online, Sport, Weather, TV and Radio. As part of the site, every programme on BBC Television or Radio is given its own page, with bigger programmes getting their own micro-site, and as a result it is often common for viewers and listeners to be told website addresses (URLs) for the programme website.

Another large part of the site also allows users to watch and listen to most Television and Radio output live and for seven days after broadcast using the BBC iPlayer platform, which launched on 27 July 2007, and initially used 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, since then video is now streamed directly. Also, through participation in the Creative Archive Licence group, allowed legal downloads of selected archive material via the internet.[80]

The BBC has often included learning as part of its online service, running services such as BBC Jam, Learning Zone Class Clips and also runs services such as BBC WebWise and First Click which are designed to teach people how to use the internet. 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.[81]

In recent years some major on-line companies and politicians have complained that BBC Online 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 Online.[82] Some have proposed that the amount of licence fee money spent on BBC Online should be reduced either being replaced with funding from advertisements or subscriptions, or a reduction in the amount of content available on the site.[83] 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 Online will now attempt to fill in gaps in the market, and will guide users to other websites for currently existing market provision. (For example, instead of providing local events information and timetables, users will be guided to outside websites already providing that information.) Part of this plan included the BBC closing some of its websites, and rediverting money to redevelop other parts.[84][85]

On 26 February 2010 The Times claimed that Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, proposed that the BBC's web output should be cut by 50%, with online staff numbers and budgets reduced by 25% in a bid to scale back BBC operations and allow commercial rivals more room.[86] On 2 March 2010, the BBC reported that it will cut its website spending by 25% and close BBC 6 Music and Asian Network, as part of Mark Thompson's plans to make " a smaller, fitter BBC for the digital age".[87][88]

Interactive television

BBC Red Button is the brand name for the BBC's interactive digital television services, which are available through Freeview (digital terrestrial), as well as Freesat, Sky (satellite), and Virgin Media (cable). Unlike Ceefax, the service's analogue counterpart, BBC Red Button is able to display full-colour graphics, photographs, and video, as well as programmes and can be accessed from any BBC channel. The service carries News, Weather and Sport 24 hours a day, but also provides extra features related to programmes specific at that time. Examples include viewers to play along at home to gameshows, to give, voice and vote on opinions to issues, as used alongside programmes such as Question Time. At some points in the year, when multiple sporting events occur, some coverage of less mainstream sports or games are frequently placed on the Red Button for viewers to watch. Frequently, other features are added unrelated to programmes being broadcast at that time, such as the broadcast of the Doctor Who animated episode Dreamland in November 2009.

Commercial services

BBC Worldwide Limited is the wholly owned commercial subsidiary of the BBC responsible for the commercial exploitation of BBC programmes and other properties, including a number of television stations throughout the world. It was formed following the restructuring of its predecessor, BBC Enterprises, in 1995.

The company owns and administers a number of commercial stations around the world operating in a number of territories and on a number of different platforms. The channel BBC Entertainment shows current and archive entertainment programming to viewers in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with the BBC Worldwide channels BBC America and BBC Canada (Joint venture with Shaw Media) showing similar programming in the North America region and UKTV in the Australasia region. The company also airs two channels aimed at children, an international CBeebies channel and BBC Kids, a joint venture with Knowledge Network Corporation, which airs programmes under the CBeebies and BBC K brands. The company also runs the channels BBC Knowledge, broadcasting factual and learning programmes, and BBC Lifestyle, broadcasting programmes based on themes of Food, Style and Wellbeing. In addition to this, BBC Worldwide runs an internation version of the channel BBC HD, and provides HD simulcasts of the channels BBC Knowledge and BBC America.

BBC Worldwide also distributes the 24-hour international news channel BBC World News. The station is separate from BBC Worldwide to maintain the station's neutral point of view, but is distributed by BBC Worldwide. The channel itself is the oldest surviving entity of its kind, and has bases and correspondents in over 200 countries. As officially surveyed it is available to more than 274 million households, significantly more than CNN's estimated 200 million.

In addition to these international channels, BBC Worldwide also owns, together with Virgin Media, the UKTV network of ten channels. These channels contain BBC archive programming to be rebroadcast on their respective channels: Alibi, drama; Blighty, British-oriented; Dave (slogan: "The Home of Witty Banter"); Eden, nature; GOLD, comedy; Good Food, cookery; Home, home and garden; Really, female programming; Watch, entertainment and Yesterday, history programming.

In addition to these channels, many BBC programmes are sold via BBC Worldwide to foreign television stations with comedy, documentaries and historical drama productions being most popular. In addition, BBC television news appears nightly on many Public Broadcasting Service stations in the United States, as do reruns of BBC programmes such as EastEnders, and in New Zealand on TV One.

In addition to programming, BBC Worldwide produces material to accompany programmes. The company maintained the publishing arm of the BBC, and is currently the third-largest publisher of consumer magazines in the United Kingdom.[89] BBC Magazines, formerly known as BBC Publications, publishes the Radio Times as well as a number of magazines that support BBC programming such as BBC Top Gear, BBC Good Food, BBC Sky at Night, BBC History, BBC Wildlife and BBC Music. This department included independent magazine publisher Origin Publishing, which BBC Worldwide owned between 2004 and 2006.[90]

BBC Worldwide also publishes books, to accompany programmes such as Doctor Who under the BBC Books brand, and also owns the biggest travel guidebook and digital media publisher in the world, Lonely Planet. Soundtrack albums, talking books and sections of radio broadcasts are also sold under the brand BBC Records, with DVD's also being sold and licensed in large quantities to consumers both in the UK and abroad under the 2 Entertain brand. Archive programming and classical music recordings are sold under the brand BBC Legends.


The BBC employs staff orchestras, a choir, and supports two amateur choruses, based in BBC venues across the UK; the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Big Band based in London, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow, the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, the BBC Concert Orchestra based in Watford and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in Cardiff. It also buys a selected number of broadcasts from the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast. Many famous musicians of every genre have played at the BBC, such as The Beatles (The Beatles Live at the BBC is one of their many albums). The BBC is also responsible for the United Kingdom coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest, a show with which the broadcaster has been associated for over 50 years.


The BBC operates in other ventures in addition to their broadcasting arm. In addition to broadcasting output on television and radio, some programmes are also displayed on the BBC Big Screens located in several central city locations. The BBC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also jointly run BBC Monitoring, which monitors radio, television, the press and the internet worldwide. The BBC also developed several computers throughout the 1980s, most notably the BBC Micro, which ran alongside the corporation's educational aims and programming.


Staff at the BBC are normally represented by BECTU, along with journalistic staff by the NUJ and electrical staff by Unite. Union membership is optional, and is paid for by staff members, not by the BBC; staff are not automatically covered by a union.

Cultural significance

Until the development, popularisation, and domination of television, radio was the broadcast medium upon which people in the United Kingdom relied. It "reached into every home in the land, and simultaneously united the nation, an important factor during the Second World War".[91] The BBC introduced the world's first "high-definition" 405-line television service in 1936, and apart from suspending service throughout World War II until 1946, was the only television broadcaster in the UK until 1955. "The BBC's monopoly was broken in 1955, with the introduction of Independent Television (ITV)",[92] This heralded the transformation of television into a popular and dominant medium. Nevertheless, "throughout the 1950s radio still remained the dominant source of broadcast comedy".[92] Further, the BBC was the only legal radio broadcaster until 1968 (when URY obtained their first licence).[93]

Even since the advent of commercial television and radio, the BBC has remained one of the main elements in British popular culture through its obligation to produce TV and radio programmes for mass audiences. However, the arrival of BBC2 allowed the BBC also to make programmes for minority interests in drama, documentaries, current affairs, entertainment and sport. Examples are cited such as I, Claudius, Civilisation, Tonight, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Doctor Who and Pot Black, but other examples can be given in each of these fields as shown by the BBC's entries in the British Film Institute's 2000 list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.[94] The export of BBC programmes through both services like the BBC World Service and BBC World News, as well as the channels operated by BBC Worldwide mean that BBC productions can now be experienced worldwide.

The term BBC English (Received Pronunciation) refers to the former use of Standard English with this accent. However, the organisation now makes more use of regional accents in order to reflect the diversity of the UK, though clarity and fluency are still expected of presenters.[95] From its "starchy" beginnings, the BBC has also become more inclusive, and now attempts to accommodate the interests of all strata of society and all minorities, because they all pay the licence fee.[96]

Competition from Independent Television, Channel 4, Sky and other broadcast television stations, has lessened the BBC's influence, but such public broadcasting remains a major influence on British popular culture.[97]

Attitudes toward the BBC in popular culture

Older domestic UK audiences often refer to the BBC as "the Beeb", a nickname originally dubbed by Peter Sellers in The Goon Show in the 1950s, when he referred to the "Beeb Beeb Ceeb". It was then borrowed, shortened and popularised by Kenny Everett.[98] Another nickname, now less commonly used, is "Auntie", said to originate from the old-fashioned "Auntie knows best" attitude (but possibly a sly reference to the "aunties" and "uncles" who were presenters of children's programmes in early days)[99] in the days when John Reith, the BBC's first director general, was in charge. The two nicknames have also been used together as "Auntie Beeb",[100] and Auntie has been used in out-take programmes such as Auntie's Bloomers.[101]

Criticism and controversies

See also

  • Criticism of the BBC
  • List of television programmes broadcast by the BBC
  • Stations of the BBC
  • The Green Book


  • British television
  • Early television stations
  • Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland
  • Public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom



  • Briggs, Asa. The BBC the First Fifty Years Condensed version of the five-volume history by the same author. Oxford University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-19-212971-6
  • Coulton, Barbara. Louis MacNeice in the BBC Writer and producer from 1941 to 1961 in the Features Department of BBC radio. Faber & Faber, 1980. ISBN 0-571-11537-3
  • Gilder, Eric. Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA. Historical background relating to the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd, its founding companies; their transatlantic connections; General Post Office licensing system; commercial competitors from Europe before World War II and offshore during the 1960s. "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003. ISBN 973-651-596-6
  • Milne, Alasdair. The Memoirs of a British Broadcaster History of the Zircon spy satellite affair, written by a former Director-General of the BBC. A series of BBC radio programmes called "The Secret Society" led to a raid by police in both England and Scotland to seize documents as part of a government censorship campaign. Coronet, 1989. ISBN 0-340-49750-5
  • Moran, Lord. Churchill at War 1940 to 1945: the memoirs of Churchill's doctor, with an introduction by Lord Moran's son, John, the present Lord Moran. This diary paints an intimate portrait of Churchill by Sir Charles Wilson, his personal physician (Lord Moran), who spent the war years with the Prime Minister. In his diary, Moran recorded insights into Churchill's character, and moments when he let his guard down, including his views about the BBC being riddled with communists. Carroll & Graf, 2002. Reissue ISBN 0-7867-1041-1
  • Parker, Derek. Radio: the Great Years History of BBC radio programmes from the beginning until the date of publication. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1977. ISBN 0-7153-7430-3
  • Spangenberg, Jochen. The BBC in Transition. Reasons, Results and Consequences Encompassing account of the BBC and influencing external factors until 1996. Deutscher Universitaetsverlag. 1997. ISBN 3-8244-4227-2
  • West, W. J. Truth Betrayed a critical assessment of the BBC, London, 1987, ISBN 0-7156-2182-3
  • Wilson, H. H. Pressure Group History of the political fight to introduce commercial television into the United Kingdom. Rutgers University Press, 1961.
  • Wyver, John. The Moving Image: An International History of Film, Television & Radio Basil Blackwell Ltd. in Association with the British Film Institute, 1989. ISBN 0-631-15529-5

Further reading

  • Thomas Hajkowski. The BBC and National Identity in Britain, 1922 53 (Manchester University Press, 2010), 252 pages; explores ideas of Britishness conveyed in BBC radio programs, including notions of the empire and monarchy as symbols of unity; also considers regional broadcasting in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • James, A. Lloyd (1935), The Broadcast Word. London: Kegan Paul
  • BBC Annual Reports: 2000 2001, 2002 2003, 2003 2004, 2004 2005, 2006 2007, 2009 2010

External links

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