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Corporate logo of the British Broadcasting Corporation
Corporate logo of the British Broadcasting Corporation

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom. It produces programmes and information services, broadcasting on television, radio, and the Internet.

The BBC's main domestic services on television include BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the news channel BBC News 24, and the children's channels CBBC and CBeebies. BBC One and BBC Two are available via conventional analogue transmission — the remainder can be viewed only by those with digital reception equipment. The BBC also operates the UK's only dedicated politics channel, BBC Parliament, covering events in the British Houses of Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament & European Parliament, as well as highlights of overseas legislatures such as the US Senate.

National radio services include Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, and Radio 4, and BBC Radio Five Live. Digital radio services include 1Xtra, BBC 6 Music, BBC 7, BBC Five Live Sports Extra, and the BBC Asian Network. There is also a huge catalogue of BBC Local Radio stations (such as BBC Hereford and Worcester), Open Centres, BBC Buses, and BBC Big Screens. In addition the BBC operates the BBC World Service on radio, funded by and operated in cooperation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The BBC's commercial operations are run by BBC Worldwide. These include its international television services which are funded commercially and include the international news channel BBC World, as well as entertainment channels BBC Prime, BBC America, BBC Canada and BBC Japan. There is also a Canadian children's channel BBC Kids. BBC Worldwide also co-runs, with Flextech, the UKTV network of stations in the UK, producers of amongst others UKTV Gold. In Australia and New Zealand, BBC Worldwide runs the UK.TV network jointly with Foxtel and Freemantle Media.

The BBC produces a large body of programming for domestic and worldwide broadcast. Many programmes (especially documentaries) are sold to foreign television stations, and comedy, documentaries and historical drama productions are popular on the international DVD market.

It is an autonomous corporation run by a board of governors appointed by the government for a term of four years (formerly five years). This is soon to be changed to a BBC trust. 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.



Computer generated "glass sculpture" of the BBC's coat of arms at the start of a 1995 BBC News broadcast
Computer generated "glass sculpture" of the BBC's coat of arms at the start of a 1995 BBC News broadcast

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 14 November. (For the history of the BBC before 1927 see British Broadcasting Company, and for a complete list of articles see BBC (index).)

The BBC, with John Reith as general manager, 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 from September 1, 1939 to June 7, 1946 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 2), in 1964, renaming the existing channel BBC 1. BBC 2 was broadcast in colour from July 1, 1967, and was joined by BBC 1 and ITV on November 15, 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


Main article: Television licence

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. The television licence is set by the government and enforced by the criminal law but is collected privately and does not pass through the state before reaching the BBC, and hence it is inaccurate to refer to the BBC as a publicly funded broadcaster (save for the World Service, which is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

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 (over 75), TV licences are funded by the government. Subsidised TV licences are available for the blind and the residents of residential care homes. Licence fees are set by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (a Cabinet Minister). Collecting them has been the responsibility of TV Licensing (an autonomous arm of the BBC) since 1990, but much of the collection work is subcontracted to by the independent companies Capita and AMV.

The television licence is often the subject of controversy; a number of people — including the Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Miller — argue that the licence is a regressive tax, in that the very poorest are those least likely to have a licence, and least able to pay the fine for not having a licence. However, supporters of the licence fee claim that it helps maintain a higher quality of programming on the BBC compared to its commercial rivals. Some also claim that it also leads to better programmes on the commercial channels as they seek to draw viewers/listeners away from the BBC's output.

Because government regulation controls its funding, the BBC is able to 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 £3.7 billion.

Revenue sources

The 2005 Annual report gave revenue sources in millions of:

  • £2,940.3m licence fees collected from consumers.
  • £624.3m from BBC Commercial Businesses.
  • £247.2m from the World Service, of which £225.1m is from grants (primarily funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), £16.7m from subscriptions, and £5.4m from other sources.
  • £23.5m from other income, such as providing content to overseas broadcasters and concert ticket sales.

In total, the BBC's group income is estimated at £3835.3m for 2005.

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, BBC Four, BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies)
  • 10% - transmission costs and licence fee collection
  • 3% - BBC Online, Ceefax, and Interactive Content (including and BBCi)


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 governors at 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 currently 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 2 March 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 (such as 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. The BBC is, in theory, free from both political and commercial influence and answers only 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. This gave rise to the satirical name "Buggers Broadcasting Communism".

Similarly, during times of war, the BBC is often accused by the UK government, or by strong supporters of British military campaigns, of being overly sympathetic to the view of the enemy. This gave rise, during the first Gulf War, to the satirical name "Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation".

Quite often domestic audiences have affectionately referred to the BBC as the Beeb, or as Auntie; the latter originated because of the somewhat fuddy duddy Auntie knows best attitude which goes back to the early days when John Reith was in charge.

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 as a trusted and politically neutral news source across the globe, and in some areas the BBC World Service radio is the only available free press.


Main Article: Broadcasting House

Broadcasting House is the headquarters of the BBC. Situated in Portland Place, Central London, it is normally home to Radio 2, 3, 4, 6 Music, and BBC 7.

On the front of the building are statues of Prospero and Ariel (from Shakespeare's The Tempest), by Eric Gill.

Broadcasting House is currently undergoing renovation, scheduled for completion in 2005. As part of a major reorganisation of BBC property, Broadcasting House is to become home to BBC News (both television and radio), national radio, 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 a new building, to be of equal "architectural creativity", beside the existing structure. While the rebuilding process is being undertaken many of the BBC Radio networks have been relocated to other buildings in the vicinity of Portland Place.

The whole project is expected to be completed in 2007/2008 when BBC News will relocate from the News Centre at BBC Television Centre to what's being described as "one of the world's largest live newsrooms".

BBC Services

Among its many services are domestic radio (see BBC Radio) and television (see BBC Television) stations. The BBC also jointly operates a number of other broadcasting services, namely the UKTV channels, some of the Discovery channels, and several other services available on satellite & cable services in the UK.

It also has many non-broadcasting commercial ventures within the United Kingdom including book & magazine publishing (BBC Books), and multimedia production services (DVDs, CDs, computer games) provided by BBC Multimedia.

The BBC has both satellite and cable broadcasting joint-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 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, one of which includes a recently set up TV news station in the Middle East in the Arabic language.

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 logo
BBC News logo

BBC Departments

  • Governances & Accountability
  • Programming Groups
    • News
    • Drama Entertainment & CBBC
    • Factual & Learning
    • Sport
  • Broadcasting Groups
    • World Service
    • TV
    • New Media & Technology
    • Radio & Music
    • Nations & Regions
  • Professional Services
    • Strategy & Distribution
    • Marketing & Comms
    • Finance Property & Business Affairs
    • BBC People (formerly Human Resources & Internal Comms)
    • Public Policy
  • Commercial Groups
    • BBC Resources Ltd
    • BBC Worldwide Ltd

BBC News

Main article: BBC News

BBC News is the largest broadcast news gathering operation in the world and it produces almost 160 hours of news output every hour. BBC News provides its services to BBC domestic radio as well as television networks such as; BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, BBC World, as well as BBCi, 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.

The BBC News Centre maintains its headquarters within the BBC Television Centre. It also operates regional news offices throughout the UK and bureaux in almost every country around the world. Coverage of political events is controlled from the Millbank Studios in Westminster. On 5 July 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 the majority of domestic television viewers in the UK tune to BBC news for information, but its coverage does not come without criticism. (See: BBC controversies)

Broadcasting House, 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 ("the best in new music"), Radio 2 (the UK's most listened to radio station, with 13.7 million weekly listeners), Radio 3 (specialist-interest music such as classical, world, arts, drama and jazz), Radio 4 (current affairs, drama and comedy), and Radio 5 Live (24 hour news, sports and talk).

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 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. (See BBC Local Radio.)

The BBC has been in the forefront of digital radio broadcasting with Five Live Sports Extra (a companion to Five Live for additional events coverage), 1Xtra (for black, urban and gospel music), BBC 6 Music (alternative genres of music), BBC7 (Comedy, Drama & Kids shows), Asian Network (Asian talk, music and news in many Asian languages), and World Service.

For a world-wide audience, the BBC produces the BBC World Service, which is broadcast on shortwave radio (DAB Digital Radio in the UK) and can be received in many places across the globe. It can be receieved in most capital cities and it is a major source of news and information programming, and it is funded by the British Foreign Office. It broadcasts in 43 different languages, (including English) in the most relevant local language.

The German Service, created in 1938, which has recently been discontinued, played an important part in the propaganda war against Nazi Germany. The authoritative source is Carl Brinitzer's book "Hier spricht London". Brinitzer, a German lawyer from Hamburg living in exile in London, was a founding member. Another famous member of staff was Egon Jameson (Egon Jacobsson), a former Ullstein journalist from Berlin.

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 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 and podcasting.


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, which are only available via digital television. The BBC also runs BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, and two children's channels, CBBC and CBeebies. The BBC's commercial subsidiary BBC Worldwide 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 Prime, BBC America, BBC Canada and BBC Kids (in Canada), and BBC Japan.

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.


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 maintains the publishing arm of the BBC and it is the third-largest publisher of consumer magazines in the United Kingdom [1]. BBC Magazines, formerly known as BBC Publications, publishes 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.


Main article:

The [2] website, formerly BBCi and before that BBC Online, includes a comprehensive news website and archive. It is the UK's most-visited digital destination with over 3 million web pages and that number is rising fast every day. According to Alexa's TrafficRank system, in August 2005 was the 10th most popular English Language website in the world. (References: Global Top 500 Sites - Top English Language Sites)

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 listen to most Radio output live and for seven days after broadcast using its RealPlayer-based "Radio Player"; some TV content is also distributed in RealVideo format. A new system known as iMP is currently under development, which uses peer-to-peer and DRM technology to deliver both radio and TV content for offline use for up to 7 days.

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. 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. will now attempt to fill in gaps in the market, but 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.


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. 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.

BBCi provides viewers with over 120 interactive TV programmes every year, as well as the 24/7 service.

Unencrypted satellite transmissions

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 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 five-volume history 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 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 0-34-049750-5
  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).

See also

External links

BBC web pages

Articles from news websites

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