The BBC's full name is the British Broadcasting Corporation, not "Blurring, Buzzing Confusion," or "Best British Cheekbones," or "Burmese Borough Council" or "Big British Castle" or "Boring Brown Chocolate" or indeed "Bastards Broadcasting Communism" or even "Blimey, Bollocks, an' Cor!". Until 1955, when ITV was established, it broadcast the only TV channel in the United Kingdom. It is the world's largest broadcasting corporation, reaching 274 million households in 200 countries, compared to their closest rival, CNN, with 200 million. The BBC Television Service, now BBC One, is the oldest television channel in the world.
Founded in 1922 as a privately owned radio network, it was "acquired" and made into a state network in 1927. It was relatively poorly funded until 1946, when the television licence was introduced. The income generated gave the BBC the power to truly innovate and effectively shape modern television in all countries, not just the United Kingdom.
In 1964, BBC 2 (later BBC Two) was launched to cover less mainstream programming. More recently, the network has added several digital channels to its line up, including BBC Three, BBC Four, and other more specialized channels, such as CBBC. BBC Radio, meanwhile, offers five national channels as well as several regional and online-only channels. The BBC also broadcasts radio and TV channels outside the UK, such as the World Service and BBC Prime.
The BBC Television Service is very different from most other British networks in that it is publicly funded by the UK Television Licence; if you watch live broadcast TV in the United Kingdom, on TV or a live internet stream, then you must fund the BBC (to the tune of about £140 per year or, as the BBC likes to put it, 39p a day), a system widely used across Europe with most countries having a similar TV licence to fund their national broadcaster. The upshot is that the BBC's programming is advertisement-free (bar trailers between programmes), and thus they can take more risks, although it's been a matter of media, public, and government debate as to whether they're actually doing this. It's also supposed to be free of bias in areas like news reporting (like every other public broadcaster in the UK - no Bill O'Reillys or Keith Olbermanns here, no sireenote ), although practically every opposition party has accused it of supporting the current government and at least one government has accused it of the opposite. It takes this very seriously, and extends it to international affairs - it famously declared during the Falklands War that "the widow in Portsmouth is no different from the widow of Buenos Aires." Finally, it's meant to be responsible with the money it receives - although it had to fork out £50,000 of licence money on a fine after a phone-in scandal. They've recently been criticised for paying out-going exectives much more than what was stated in their contract. Which paled in comparison with the £90 million that it later blew on an unworkable digital video archiving system.
The BBC's news service is essentially second to none in the UK and for much of the wider world, it provides a global TV and radio service in the form of the World Service, which some governments have jammed at times and was the real-life Voice of the Resistance in World War II and behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. The BBC continues in this role today where media is censored by the government. Its political and current affairs programming has a reputation for the highly adversarial style of some prominent presenters; it's not unheard of for Newsnight or The Today Programme to draw viewer/listener complaints for being too hard on the politicians they're interviewing.
That's not say to they've occasionally slipped. They were accused of misinforming people during the Iraq War, and more recently during the Scottish Independence Referendum, they were accused of being biased in favour of preserving the Union, to the point that there were thousands of protesters outside BBC Scotland in Glasgow. Former BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has acknowledged that the BBC has a "liberal bias" and was previously guilty of a "massive bias to the Left" (after years of complaints from conservatives) and he suggested that the Corporation should recruit more conservatives to correct this. Its coverage of Brexit has also come under scrutiny. The think tank News Watch found that during the 2016 EU referendum and its aftermath the BBC's coverage displayed "a strong bias against leaving the EU", giving substantially more airtime to Remain supporters and pro-Remain arguments.
Note that not only is advertising on the BBC simply not done, Product Placement is actually a violation of the Ofcom Code (although it will now be allowed on other networks), and people have complained when brand names are visible on screen. For example, an episode of Spooks was pulled and digitally edited after it was pointed out on a preview that some computers in the background had the Apple logo visible. David Tennant's Converse All-Stars in Doctor Who had the logo painted over. For many years they even refused to broadcast any songs which mentioned brand names (the most famous example being the forced removal of a reference to Coca-Cola from "Lola" by The Kinks to get BBC airplay). This may seem overly touchy, but the BBC's lack of advertising has earned it some level of immunity to corporate influence - for example, when Top Gear (in the 90s, before it became an international phenomenon with hundreds of millions of weekly viewers) condemned a particular car from an Italian car company, their CEO allegedly demanded that they "pull all the advertising from Top Gear's network" in order to influence them into a retraction.
At least 25% of the BBC's output (excluding news) must be made by outside independent production companies, with another 25% split between indie and in house production. Many well known "BBC" programmes are actually made by indies such as Spooks, Merlin, Sherlock, Life on Mars (2006), QI, Have I Got News for You, and Friday Night With Jonathan Ross. This requirement was introduced to help the UK indie industry. These are genuine independent production companies who retain ownership of the rights for repeats, syndication, DVD and overseas sales etc, unlike the US (and Channel 4) where production company names in the show's credits are effectively vanity names and do not alter the fact that the show is made by the studio who own all the rights.
Criticisms of BBC programmes will often call them "a waste of the licence fee". Praise will often include the phrase "worth the licence fee alone" (Craig Charles' 6 Music Funk and Soul Show uses this as a catchphrase). Having just mentioned Top Gear, anyone saying either of that about TG is missing the point as the show is now self-supporting via The Merch and sales of international rights. Rupert Murdoch-owned papers often attack it, for reasons that are totally not related to its status as a serious contender with his own Sky network.
More seriously, in 2012 the BBC came under fire with the horrific revelations of the crimes of British celebrity Jimmy Savile (longtime presenter of Top of the Pops, Clunk Click, and Jim'll Fix It), who died the previous year. Savile used his celebrity status as both a presenter and charity advocate to sexually abuse possibly hundreds of people, mostly children and teens, over the decades, and questions of how much BBC brass knew of his conduct behind-the-scenes and what they covered up were raised. Despite these batterings it maintains a reasonable level of public trust among media organisations (at 44%, the highest in Britain, in fact, although this figure represented a 37% fall from a similar poll in 2003), and is a source of pride to many Britons.
It should be said that not everyone is particularly fond of the license fee. An e-petition on the UK Government website calling for the licence fee to be scrapped was signed by 125,000 people, enough to trigger a parliamentary debate on the issue. 200,000 people signed a petition on the 38 Degrees petition site in favour of axing the license fee. Critics of the licence fee argue that, in an age of literally thousands of free to air TV channels, not to mention numerous subscription channels, they should not be obliged, under threat of fines and imprisonment,note to pay for a service they do not necessarily want or even watch, especially as the BBC's major sport coverage has dwindled to almost nothing, while it has failed to produce a drama series to rival those of HBO or Netflix for many years. This, however, was promptly dwarfed by a petition in favour of keeping the license and the government's hands off the BBC, which is at 380,000 people and rising. This is considerably larger than the population of Cardiff and approximately equivalent to the population of New Orleans or Bristol. It's safe to say that this issue raises strong feelings.
Notable BBC programmes are many indeed. A modern BBC programme can be pretty easily identified these days. During The Teaser or Title Sequence, the BBC logo will appear on the screen while other things are going on. (The BBC actually lays down very strict rules on when and where the logo appears, as well as its size and duration on screen. This is due to the BBC logo's appearance in Title Sequences being a way for engineers to tell if a programme is being broadcast in the correct Aspect Ratio - if the usually perfectly square logo is squashed or stretched, it's in the wrong aspect ratio.)
Genre-wise, the BBC's particular specialities are:
- Costume Drama - a lot of it. It's widely exported.
- Radio Drama - The Beeb is almost as famous for its radio adaptations, comedies and dramas as it is for its TV dramas. In the past they have aired such ground breaking material as The Goon Show (which inspired almost every British comedy since and was even referenced in Shrek), adapted many novels, such as the whole of C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series, and produced such long running and loved shows as Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, and, of course, the most popular show of all, The Archers, an extremely accurate and topical depiction of — of all things — farming... Seriously, it's been going since 1950 and it's the most popular show on Radio 4. The Goon Show once did a spoof of it and the spoof version is still completely accurate. People who join on as young actors on that show have been known to leave by dying of old age in real life. At the height of its popularity 60% of the country tuned in every week. It currently has over 17,000 episodes and is considered the longest running soap opera (and second longest running radio show, after Desert Island Discs) ever made - and that's on a channel full of contenders for that title.
- Speculative Fiction, most notably Doctor Who. Although the BBC made hardly any in-house SF or fantasy between the cancellation of the original Doctor Who in 1989 and its revival in 2005, according to rumour because of executive hostility to the genre. The only significant SFFH show made in that time was Red Dwarf, which may have survived because of Misaimed Fandom on the part of the executives who thought it was laughing at the genre and its fans. After the successful revival of Doctor Who, however, they unbent somewhat, launching Doctor Who spinoffs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, as well as Merlin, an adaptation of the King Arthur legend from the point of view of a teenage Merlin with largely the same demographic as Doctor Who (it tended to run just after Who), all of which achieved reasonable success.
- Some American Speculative Fiction imports including Star Trek (apart from Enterprise), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Heroes.
- One of the BBC's indirect contributions to the world of Speculative Fiction deserves mention too. In 1997 the Radio 4 arts reporters took quite a shine to this new children's fantasy novel and played some part in popularising it.
- Comedy (often risk-taking, ground-breaking and highly influential, like Monty Python). This includes the genesis of the Panel Show genre.
- Natural History series, often narrated by David Attenborough. These tend to have very high production values, pioneer new forms of filming, and be generally very well regarded - Attenborough's status as a national treasure helps in this regard.
- Travel documentaries, usually with Michael Palin.
Because of its lack of need to chase advertising, and therefore ratings, the BBC is not under the same pressure (News Corp headlines aside) to gain 'instant hits' with high viewing figures. A number of TV shows that would not have had a second series commissioned on ITV (or in the US been pulled mid season) have gone on to become hits - Only Fools and Horses and Blackadder are prime examples. Men Behaving Badly actually started on ITV, was dumped after series one, then picked up and nurtured in to a genre defining hit on the Beeb.
At the end of 2007, the BBC introduced the free iPlayer service, allowing UK-only users to download some of the previous seven days' programming online and some entire seasons. (Most BBC radio programmes and stations can be listened to by users outside the UK via BBC's website or smartphone apps like TuneIn.) This may change in the future, as the BBC wants to open up the iPlayer to non-British audiences, for a fee.
The BBC's television stations are:
- BBC One — the world's oldest regular scheduled TV channel (193639 and 1946present). It is broken down into a number of regions for broadcasting purposes, with each region having some specific local shows (e.g., local news) and the production of national shows being spread across the United Kingdom. These are all available on satellite or cable and include the 14 regions of England (BBC One East, East Midlands, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, London, Yorkshire, Yorks & Lincs, West, West Midlands, North West, North East & Cumbria, South, South East, South West), BBC One The Channel Islands, BBC One Northern Ireland, BBC One Scotland and BBC One Wales.
- BBC Two has fewer regions (BBC Two England; BBC Two Scotland; BBC Two Wales; and BBC Two Northern Ireland). BBC Two is generally seen as the "Special Interest" channel, showing things that have a loyal following, but won't get the big ratings (e.g. snooker, "serious" documentaries, American comedies, the Chelsea Flower Show and, in Scotland, Gaelic programmes). A programme that proves popular with the "mainstream" audience may be "promoted" to BBC One (this has happened to Have I Got News for You and QI, amongst others.)
- BBC Three (aka BBC II!) - An online-exclusive channel dedicated to comedy, teen dramas, the occasional film and repeats. Started off showcasing some new stuff like Nighty Night and Little Britain, in addition to stuff like Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, but dove head first into the 16-24 demographic with shows like The Wrong Door, Being Human and various pilots for comedies, effectively getting revamped as a platform for this age group's creative works - possibly a more youthful Spiritual Successor to Channel Four's Comedy Lab as well as potential rival to T4. These have not all been successful. BBC Three was also available on broadcast television until its closure on 15 February 2016 due to budget cuts and increased interest in internet-exclusive programming.
- BBC Four - Pretty much the visual equivalent of Radios 3 and 4 and the American PBS, with widespread critical acclaim. Documentaries, classical music orientated programmes and television films and plays in the vein of Play for Today. Fridays are devoted to music documentaries and performances, featuring everything from classical to heavy metal. In The New '10s, known for importing cop shows and other drama series from mainland European countries, not previously a UK tradition, including Engrenages from France, Salamander from Belgium, the original Swedish TV version of Wallander, Forbrydelsen and Borgen from Denmark, Trapped from Iceland, and Il commissario Montalbano from Italy. Also Condensation. Some of these shows are even supported by the BBC as part of cross-European collaboration. The channel bandwidth is shared with that of CBeebies, with the former taking over about 5 minutes after the latter signs off and the former signing off shortly before the latter begins broadcasting for the day.
- CBBC - A kids' channel. Showing mostly British stuff with the occasional Australian drama or American cartoon.
- CBeebies - In addition to CBBC, as well as traditional morning and afternoon slots, and extended Saturday and Sunday blocks, and morning blocks extended from about 7 until 10 in the summer, the BBC also has this channel. Targets 0-6 demographics. Has its own morning and afternoon slots prior to CBBC. Again, mostly British made content. Those living in the United States can now see a number of its shows in some markets if they receive On Demand service from their cable provider. The channel bandwidth is shared with that of BBC Four, with the latter taking over about 5 minutes after the former signs off and the latter signing off shortly before the former begins brodcasting for the day.
- BBC News Channel: Exactly What It Says on the Tin - A BBC News channel. Airs 24 hours a day. Formerly BBC News 24.
- BBC Parliament: Covers the debates of the UK's Parliament, including Select Committees (like the US standing committees), devolved assemblies and the House of Lords. The channel also airs programming on public affairs and political topics (usually to fill gaps in the schedule), and special themed lineups of archive programming to commemorate the anniversaries of major political events (such as elections and referendums, the inaugurations of prime ministers, etc.) Similar to the American C-SPAN, to the point that the two channels have also syndicated some programming between them.
- BBC Alba: The BBC's Scottish Gaelic-language channel.
- Although responsibility for Welsh-language programming has passed on to the independent S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru), the BBC still makes programmes for the Welsh-language network, most notably long-running soap opera Pobol y Cwm.
- In addition, during the London 2012 Olympics the BBC operated a whopping twenty-four live Olympic sports channels, although they weren't all showing live events simultaneously. Part of the cost of these channels was borne by the International Olympic Committee.
The BBC also runs other channels and services as purely commercial ventures, formerly under a subsidiary known as BBC Worldwide. Unlike the BBC's public services, they are not allowed to receive funding from the license fee (and hence, are commercially-supported). In 2018, the unit was shut down, and these were roles were assumed by BBC Studios — a new commercial subsidiary that has assumed the production duties for a number of the BBC's top programmes. A number of its ventures are international television networks, including:
- BBC Lifestyle: Mostly British home makeover shows and cooking shows. Also took over BBC Knowledge's reality TV programming when BBC Knowledge shut down and was spun off into BBC Earth. Converted to HD in 2016.
- BBC World News: A subscription-supported 24-hour global news channel covering all aspects from International news to Finance, funded through subscription via pay TV networks. It is unavailable in the UK due to license fee considerations, aside from a half-hour daily simulcast on BBC Four. Compare CNN International and NHK World. Launched in 1995 alongside BBC Prime- they were both different services with the same name (BBC World Service TV), the entertainment net broadcasting to Europe while the news-and-info net broadcast to Asia. Converted to HD in 2016.
- CBeebies (International): A completely different feed from the one transmitted within the UK- this feed of the channel transmits 24 hours and is subscription-funded, and airs several shows whose license are otherwise held by different networks in the UK (for example, Humf). Conversely they do not carry some of the shows that the UK feed of CBeebies carry due to international licensing agreements relegating said shows to other networks (for example, in Asia, Postman Pat aired in syndication, later on Boomerang and then The Dreamworks Channel). Converted to HD in 2016.
- BBC Earth: A bid by the BBC to focus on it's own documentary programming, this channel was launched Asia in October 2, 2015. It has replaced BBC Knowledge in most markets. Broadcasts in HD.
- BBC Brit: A bid to split up BBC Entertainment into something more manageable. This channel primarily carries factual programming that have been dubbed "too British" or "not popular enough" to be on BBC First, or even programs that otherwise airs on competing channels like E4 in the UK (like, say, Bad Robots). In Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the channel is launched as a traditional pay TV channel and (along with BBC First) replaced BBC Entertainment. However, in Asia, the channel's availability is limited to content in the BBC Player (the BBC's Asian rebranded version of iPlayer), which itself is only available in Singapore and Malaysia.
- BBC First: Top billing shows like Sherlock and Doctor Who will go to this channel, the other half of the BBC Entertainment split. The channel replaced BBC Entertainment in markets where BBC Entertainment was available. In Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the channel is launched as a traditional pay TV channel. However, in Asia, the channel is launched as a Video-on-Demand service that is only available through select Pay TV providers. The BBC pledges to make content available on the channel within 48 hours of airing in the UK, although in practice content can take up to three weeks to appear due to various factors.
- BBC America: A privately-run cable channel in the United States that's half-owned by BBC Studios, half-owned by AMC Networks (and before them, Discovery Communications). This network shows programmes from a variety of makers, including shows from rivals ITV and Channel Four (The Inbetweeners, Peep Show and Skins are some of the most notable shows shown on the network). The channel does run some of the BBC's most popular programs, such as Top Gear, Torchwood and, of course Doctor Who - all among of American extended cable's highest rated and critically acclaimed shows. note BBC America also shows American-made science fiction programmes (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files and the 2003-2009 Battlestar Galactica), and produced original dramatic programming starting in 2012 with Copper. 2013's Orphan Black, a Canadian co-production, proved to be an unexpected breakout hit for the network; enough so that it was soon broadcast in the UK on BBC Three.
- BBC Canada: Serves Canada through joint partnerships with Canadian broadcasters (with the required smatterings of Canadian content).
- BBC Kids: Basically an amalgamation of CBBC and CBeebies, with a tinge of Canadian content as required by the Canadian broadcast regulatory bodies. Until 2011, both it and BBC Canada were sibling channels.
- BBC Japan: Similar to BBC Canada, it served Japan through a distributor partnership with JMC. Primarily broadcast classic shows like Blackadder and Fawlty Towers with Japanese subtitles and localized versions of shows like The Weakest Link. The channel ceased broadcast in 2006 due to financial issues with JMC.
BBC Worldwide used to transmit the following channels, but have since replaced them:
- BBC Entertainment: Known widely as the home of Doctor Who to those who get this channel instead. It airs mostly drama and comedy content, including Yes, Minister, Sherlock and 'Allo 'Allo!. They also previously aired Red Dwarf before the corporation lost the rights to the show to Dave in the UK. Their main competitor is ITV Granada, the only feed of ITV that is available worldwide on select Pay TV providers. Their predecessor was BBC Prime, which launched in 1995. The name was phased out starting in 2007. Currently being replaced by BBC Brit and BBC First. BBC Worldwide had ceased broadcast of the channel as of late April 2017.
- BBC Knowledge: The BBC's take on The Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel. Commonly known as the home of Top Gear, they also air several Canadian and British reality TV shows like the Canadian version of Undercover Boss, as well as plenty of their own documentaries. Available in HD in certain markets. Also the name of the UK digital channel that preceded BBC Four from 1998-2002. Has been replaced by BBC Earth in most countries, perhaps due to Top Gear stopping production from Jeremy Clarkson being refused a contract renewalnote , which in turn caused fellow presenters James May & Richard Hammond, as well as producer Andy Wilman to refuse to renew their contracts with the BBC.
The BBC still has many radio stations as well. There are five national terrestrial stations.
- BBC Radio 1: The youth station, playing primarily chart music (many are quick to point out that "chart music" doesn't simply mean generic pop music as in the United States, but also encompasses various other genres including hip-hop, indie rock and blues) during the day, and more obscure genres get airplay in the evening and into the night.
- BBC Radio 2: Another music station, but aims for an older demographic.
- BBC Radio 3: Plays classical, jazz, and "world" music as well as arts programming, the occasional drama, and live Anglican church services.
- BBC Radio 4: The spoken word station, which broadcasts a mix of news, documentaries, drama, comedy and current affairs, similar to the American NPR.
- BBC Radio 5 Live: A talk radio station, with an emphasis on sports, often featuring live commentary on UK sports events.
Furthermore, the BBC has regional stations across the United Kingdom and several more specialist digital radio stations, most notably the indie rock-leaning 6 Music (which in 2010 was saved from certain death via cutbacks with the work of fans, musical acts and the BBC Trust), and BBC Radio 4 Extra (formerly BBC [Radio] 7) which specialises in spoken-word comedy, science-fiction, mystery and drama. The BBC also used to transmit a BBC World Service radio station over several frequencies on Short Wave, these feeds were eventually stopped and the station became an Internet Radio station due to said cutbacks and the prominence of the Internet.
Commonly nicknamed "The Beeb" or "Auntie", the latter down to general perceptions of it being paternalistic, stodgy and hand-wringing like a maiden aunt; it's still affectionate, though. Down Under, The ABC has the same 'Auntie' nickname, with the same connotations.
The BBC (or, more accurately, its commercial arm BBC Worldwide) also part-owns a number of commercial channels, mainly the UKTV Network, responsible for channels such as Dave, Home and Blighty, as well as a print arm which handles the bulk of the magazines which license its properties (Top Gear being one example) and listings magazine Radio Times. As of 2015, the BBC also has plans to establish an Internet-based subscription service (rather like Netflix), with its first target market being the US, where users would (for a fee) be able to stream BBC programs not already on streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) available in the US.
Works on the BBC
- 100 Greatest Britons
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie
- Absolutely Fabulous
- 'Allo 'Allo!
- And Then There Were None (2015)
- Are You Being Served?
- Blake's 7
- Bodyguard (UK 2018)
- The Borrowers
- The Brittas Empire
- Call the Midwife
- The Capture
- Car Share
- The Casual Vacancy
- The Coroner
- Dad's Army
- Doctor Who
- Friday Night With Jonathan Ross
- The Frost Report
- Gavin & Stacey
- The Game (2014)
- Gentleman Jack
- The Good Life
- Hancock's Half Hour
- The Hanging Gale
- Hotel Babylon
- It Ain't Half Hot Mum
- Jam And Jerusalem
- Jonathan Creek
- Keeping Up Appearances
- The Kumars At No 42
- Let Them Eat Cake
- Little Britain
- Men Behaving Badly
- Monty Python's Flying Circus
- The Moon Stallion
- Moonbase 3
- The Musketeers
- My Family
- The Night Manager
- Oh, Doctor Beeching!
- One Foot in the Grave
- Only Fools and Horses
- Ordeal by Innocence
- Peter Pan Goes Wrong
- Pride and Prejudice (1995)
- The Royle Family
- Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators
- Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
- Spooks (Original channel before moving to BBC 3)
- Steptoe and Son
- Stoppit and Tidyup
- That Was the Week That Was
- The Thin Blue Line
- Till Death Do Us Part
- To Walk Invisible
- Top of the Pops
- A Very English Scandal
- The Vicar of Dibley
- Vision On
- Waking the Dead
- War and Peace (2016)
- The White Queen
- Years and Years
- You Rang, M'Lord?
- Absolutely Fabulous
- BBC Historical Farm Series
- Black Earth Rising (co-production with Netflix, who streams it outside the UK)
- Boy Meets Girl
- The Catherine Tate Show
- Coogans Run
- Count Dracula (1977)
- The Creatives
- The Day Today
- Early Doors
- Edge of Darkness
- The Fall
- The Fast Show
- Fawlty Towers
- Filthy Rich & Catflap
- Fist of Fun
- Have I Got News for You
- The Hollow Crown''
- The Hour
- I'm Alan Partridge
- Inside No. 9
- Killing Eve
- The Last Kingdom
- The League of Gentlemen
- Line of Duty
- The Mary Whitehouse Experience
- Never Mind the Buzzcocks
- Not the Nine O'Clock News
- The Office (UK)
- Page Eight
- Portrait of a Marriage
- Posh Nosh
- Private Schulz
- Red Dwarf
- Summer Of Rockets
- That Mitchell and Webb Look
- They Think It's All Over
- The Thick of It
- Top Gear
- Turks & Caicos
- Yes, Minister
- The Young Ones