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Corporate logo of the British Broadcasting Corporation

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was formed in 1927 by means of a royal charter from the Crown. (For the history of the BBC before 1927, see British Broadcasting Company and for a complete list of articles see BBC (index).) Today the BBC is the national publicly-funded broadcaster of the United Kingdom. It both produces programmes and broadcasts on television, radio and the Internet. Its main domestic services on television include BBC One and BBC Two, the news channel BBC News 24 and on radio Radio 1 and Radio 4. In addition the BBC operates the BBC World Service on radio, funded by and operated in cooperation with the British Foreign Office. Its international television services are funded commercially and include the international news channel BBC World.

The BBC is an autonomous corporation run by a board of governors appointed by the incumbent government for a term of four years (formerly five years). General management of the organisation is in the hands of a Director-General appointed by the governors. Its domestic programming and broadcasts are funded by levying television licence fees upon the owners of television sets.



Main article: Timeline of the BBC

The British Broadcasting Company was founded in 1922 by various private firms, to broadcast experimental radio services. The first transmission was on November 14.

The BBC took on its current form in 1927 when it was granted a Royal Charter of incorporation. It started experimental television broadcasting in 1932, becoming a regular service (known as the BBC Television Service) in 1936. Television broadcasting was suspended during the Second World War.

Competition to the BBC was introduced for the first time in 1955 with the commercially and independently-operated ITV. The BBC introduced a second TV channel (BBC Two), in 1964, renaming the existing channel to BBC One. BBC Two was broadcast in colour from 1967, and was joined by BBC One in 1969.

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 Corporation


The principal means of funding the BBC is through the television licence. Such a licence is required to operate a broadcast television receiver within the UK.

A similar licence used to exist for radios, but was abolished in 1971. These licences were originally issued by the British General Post Office (GPO), which was then the regulator of public communications within the UK. For a more detailed historical explanation see British Broadcasting Company.

In the case of the elderly and those suffering hardship, these licenses are funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Licence fees are set by the government but collected by the independent contractors Capita and AMV.

Because government regulation controls its funding the BBC can provide domestic public service broadcasting to educate, inform and entertain, free of commercial advertising. However, the BBC does engage in commercial advertising in its publications and some broadcasting activities. In theory the BBC is answerable only to the licence payer. World Service external broadcasting is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The BBC has the largest budget of any UK broadcaster. Income from commercial enterprises and from overseas sales of its catalogue of programmes has substantially increased over recent years. Its annual budget is approximately $10 billion (7.5 billion, 5 billion) [1], and it rivals that of NASA. It is greater than the gross domestic product of more than half the world's nations and ranks behind the budgets of only the twelve governments of the wealthiest nations on the planet.

Revenue Sources

The 2003 Annual report gave revenue sources in millions of:

  • 2,659m licence fees collected from consumers.
  • 147m from BBC Commercial Holdings Ltd.
  • 223.7m from the World Service, of which 201m is from grants (primarily funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), 16.1m from subscriptions and 6.6m from other sources.
  • Assorted additional sources such as property and interest.

Licence fee expenditure

The BBC gives the following figures for expenditure of licence fee income:

  • 50% - BBC One and BBC Two
  • 15% - local TV and radio
  • 12% - network radio
  • 10% - digital (BBC Three, Four, News 24, BBC Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies)
  • 10% - transmission costs and licence fee collection
  • 3% - BBC Online


The BBC is a nominally autonomous corporation, independent from direct government intervention. It is run by an appointed Board of Governors. General management of the organisation is in the hands of a Director-General appointed by the governors.

The current governors, as of 19 January 2005, are:

The current Director-General is Mark Thompson. On his first day in the role he announced a shake-up of senior management, including the replacement of the Executive Committee, formed by directors of divisions within the BBC, with a streamlined nine-member Executive Board consisting of:

Current review of Royal Charter

Main article: BBC review

The BBC's Royal Charter is currently under review. Although the Charter is widely expected to be renewed in 2006, some proposals have suggested dramatic changes.

On March 2 2005 the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell published a green paper setting out her proposals for the future of the BBC. The main points of this are:

  • Maintenance of the licence fee system until at least 2016
  • Abolition of the BBC Governors, to be replaced by a "BBC Trust"
  • Increasing outsourcing of production (a process already started by Mark Thompson)
  • Reduced emphasis on "ratings for ratings' sake" and copycat programmes (e.g reality television).

Political and commercial independence

Main article: BBC controversies

The BBC motto is Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation and many have claimed that it is the most respected broadcaster in the world. Quite often domestic audiences have affectionately referred to the BBC as the Beeb or Auntie because in theory the BBC is free from both political and commercial influence and only answers to its viewers and listeners. However, the BBC is regularly accused by the government of the day of bias in favour of the opposition and, by the opposition, of bias in favour of the government. Political influence may manifest itself via appointments to its Board of Governors and by threats to change the level of the licence fee. Commercial competition has influenced BBC programming on both radio and television throughout its history. In spite of these criticisms, the BBC is widely regarded by the British public as a trusted and politically neutral news source.

BBC Services

Among its many services are domestic radio (see BBC Radio) and television (see BBC Television) stations. The BBC also operates a number of non-broadcasting commercial ventures within the United Kingdom and both satellite and cable broadcasting ventures serving the United States, Canada and other countries. In addition the BBC operates a number of radio and television world services in cooperation with funding from the British Foreign Office. The BBC is a multinational corporation.

Before the introduction of Independent Television in 1955 and subsequently Independent Radio in 1973, it held a monopoly on broadcasting. More recent de-regulation of the British television broadcasting market produced analogue cable television and satellite broadcasting and later digital satellite, digital cable and digital terrestrial television (DTT). Today the BBC broadcasts in almost all media and operates an award winning internet service,, itself indicative of the corporation's continued ability to move with the times.

BBC News

Main article: BBC News

BBC News claims to be the largest broadcast news gathering operation in the world and it produces almost 100 hours of output every day. BBC News provides its services to BBC domestic radio and television networks; BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, BBC World, BBCi and Ceefax. The BBC News Centre maintains its headquarters within the BBC Television Centre. It also operates regional news offices throughout the UK and bureaux around the world. Coverage of political events are controlled from the Millbank Studios in Westminster. On July 5, 2004 the BBC celebrated 50 years of television news. Its first bulletin was telecast in 1954. The BBC had carried news programmes prior to this, but in the form of newsreels.

Although the BBC news service in the UK is mostly non-commercial by reason of its financial base, it does compete for its audience with commercial companies such as Sky News and ITN. During major events many domestic television viewers in the UK tune to BBC news for information, but its coverage does not come without criticism. (See: BBC controversies)

, the BBC's headquarters and location of the Radios 2, 3, 4, 6 Music and BBC 7 studios
Broadcasting House, the BBC's headquarters and location of the Radios 2, 3, 4, 6 Music and BBC 7 studios


Main article: BBC Radio

The BBC has five major national stations, Radio 1 (pop music), Radio 2 (music aimed at an older audience), Radio 3 (specialist-interest music such as classical and jazz), Radio 4 (current affairs, drama and comedy), and Radio 5 Live (sports and talk). There are many local stations as well as several minor national ones.

For a world-wide audience, the BBC produces the BBC World Service, which is broadcast on shortwave radio and can be received in many places across the globe. It is a major source of news and information programming, and is funded by the British Foreign Office. It broadcasts in dozens of languages, including English. This has recently become available in the UK as well, with transmission on the BBC's digital radio multiplex, and also the Internet.

All of the national BBC radio stations, as well as the BBC World Service, are available over the Internet in the RealAudio streaming format. The BBC has also recently experimented with the free, open source Ogg Vorbis streaming audio format.

Try BBC's web page for internet access to all 7 main Radio channels, 1Extra (for black music), UK local radio (6 stations), Asian Network, and BBC World Service: [[2]]


Main article: BBC Television

BBC One and BBC Two are the BBC's flagship television channels. The BBC is also promoting the new channels BBC Three and BBC Four, though they are only available on digital television. The BBC also runs BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, and two children's channels, CBBC and CBeebies. The BBC is also part of a joint venture with Flextech in the TV company UKTV, and provides various channels for overseas markets, such as BBC World, BBC America and BBC Prime.

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 their favourite programmes from home.


BBC Worldwide Limited is the wholly-owned commercial subsidiary of the BBC responsible for the commercial exploitation of BBC programmes and other properties. It broadcasts television stations throughout the world. The cable and satellite stations BBC Prime (in Europe, Africa the Middle East and Asia), BBC America, BBC Canada, and BBC Japan broadcast popular BBC programmes to people outside the UK, as does UK.TV in Australasia. BBC Worldwide also runs a 24-hour news channel, BBC World. In addition, BBC television news appears nightly on many Public Broadcasting System stations in the United States, as do reruns of BBC programmes from Lionheart TV.

BBC Worldwide also maintain the publishing arm of the BBC and they are the 3rd largest publisher of consumer magazines in the United Kingdom [3]. BBC Magazines, formerly known as BBC Publications, publish the Radio Times and a number of magazines that support BBC programming such as BBC Top Gear , BBC Good Food and BBC Music . In addition, BBC Worldwide acquired the independent magazine publisher, Origin Publishing, in 2004.


The website, formerly BBCi (and before that BBC Online), includes a comprehensive news website and archive. 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 sections relating to that programme. The site also allows users to see and hear many of the BBC's television and radio services using streaming media. According to Alexa's TrafficRank system, in March 2005 was the 12th most popular English Language website in the world. (References: Global Top 500 Sites - Top English Language Sites)

In recent years some major on-line companies and politicians have complained that the 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 Some have proposed that the amount of licence fee money spent on should be reduced - either being replaced with funding from advertisements or subscriptions, or a reduction in the amount of content available on the site.


BBCi is the brand name for the BBC's interactive digital television services, which are available through Freeview (digital terrestrial) as well as satellite and cable. Unlike Ceefax, BBCi is able to display full colour graphics, photographs and video, as well as allow the viewer to interact with the programme, but without sending any information. Recent examples include the interactive sports coverage for football and rugby football matches and an interactive national IQ test. All of the BBC's digital television stations, with the exception of BBC Parliament on digital satellite, allow access to the BBCi service. However, the amount of content available on the digital television BBCi service does not currently match the amount available on Ceefax, which is still available on analogue terrestrial television.

Unencrypted satellite transmissions

In March 2003 the BBC announced that from the end of May 2003 (subsequently deferred to July 14) it intended to transmit all eight of its domestic television channels (including the 15 regional variations of BBC One) unencrypted from the Astra 2D satellite. This move was estimated to save the BBC 85 million over the next 5 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 issues have needed to be resolved with programme providers such as Hollywood studios and sporting organisations, who have expressed concern about the unencrypted signal leaking out. This has led to some broadcasts being made unavailable on the Sky Digital platform, such as Scottish Premier League and Scottish Cup football, while viewers watching on other platforms can see the broadcasts without issue.


  1. Briggs, Asa. - The BBC - The First Fifty Years - Condensed version of the multi-part encyclopedia by the same author.- Oxford University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-19-212971-6
  2. Coulton, Barbara. - Louis MacNeice in the BBC - Writer and producer from 1941 to 1961 in the Features Department of BBC radio. - Faber and Faber, 1980. ISBN 0-571-11537-3
  3. Gilder PhD., 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 prior to World War II and offshore during the 1960s. - "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003. ISBN 973-651-596-6
  4. Milne, Alasdair. - The memoirs of a British broadcaster - History of the Zicron 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 0-34-049750-5
  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 Watson, 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 0-78-671041-1
  6. Parker, Derek. - David & Charles - Radio: The Great Years - History of BBC radio programmes from the beginning until the date of publication. 1977. ISBN 0-7153-7430-3
  7. 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
  8. Wilson, H.H. - Pressure Group - History of the political fight to introduce commercial television into the United Kingdom. - Rutgers University Press, 1961.


  • For a complete list of all related British Broadcasting Corporation articles see BBC (index).

External links

Last updated: 10-25-2005 03:55:57
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