Digital Broadcasting Essay, Research Paper
This essay intends to discuss the following
Digital Broadcasting will have a fundamental
effect on viewing patterns, popular culture and audience identity.
This will be done firstly by looking at
the history of the BBC and the original intention of Public Service Broadcasting.
It will discuss how by John Reith?s successful approach to broadcasting,
the BBC became a National Institution creating popular culture and a National
Identity. It will examine how these first steps and ideas have major role
in the introduction of Digital Broadcasting today and whether the initial
?Reithian? values have any meaning in today?s society. It will finally
conclude what effect if any, these changes will have on British life as
a whole and whether the fear of change is justified.
In the 2oth century the advance of technology
has been fundamental in the way we live our lives today. The recent introduction
of Digital Broadcasting to Great Britain has caused many technologists
to become swept up in a sense of awed enthusiasm about the infinite possibilities
of the new digital age. In its early stages digital broadcasting is only
available to a minority and it will take ten years or so to become a new
way of life.
Digital Broadcasting has thousands
of new services to offer its viewers and listeners. Instead of pictures
and sound being transformed into waves, the new technology turns them into
a series of digits which are transmitted through the air and received by
television or radio aerials. Digital Broadcasting is more efficient than
analogue, giving space for six channels where analogue would give you one.
Digital brings better picture, better sound quality and more choice and
cinematic style. The new era gives the audience greater interaction with
its broadcaster and also the opportunity to shop, book holidays, bank and
play games all form remote control.
It is not just television that is
going digital. Radio too will offer the listener a transformed experience
in what we enjoy the most. The sound quality will be crystal clear and
free from interruption. New digital radio sets will offer a built in display
panel which will show graphics as well as facts and figures relating to
the programme you are listening to.
These are the things that we have
come to expect from a broadcasting journey lasting 80 years. The new technological
change is revolutionary as radio was 75 years ago and as television was
25 years after. Overnight we will move from a world of scarcity with limitation,
to a world of plenty where an infinity of services become possible.
The fear of change is as great as
its was 77 years ago when broadcasting began. The digital age brings risks
as well as opportunities. The risk that globalisation of culture may threaten
national identities; that the powerful gateway controllers may restrain
rather than promote diversity; the risk of a possible two class society;
the information rich, ready an able to pay for their increasingly expensive
media, and the information poor who cannot. Are these threats true to life
? How could this be avoided ?
The introduction of digital broadcasting
has followed a similar pattern to the advent of broadcasting itself 77
years ago by its gradual availability to all. In 1922 the British Broadcasting
Company was founded. Owned by a consortium of radio manufacturers Peter
Eckersley one of the companies first employees said,
“The BBC was formed as an expedient solution
to a technical problem”.
The government had decided that there
was going to be no radio free for all. Led by 33 year old John Reith the
BBC set to work at inventing broadcasting. The BBC was set up as a public
service, meaning that the provision should be public goods rather than
of a private commodity.
Funding the public service was decided
when it was felt that advertising could limit the number of programmes
broadcast. Therefore to move away from the governments intervention a licence
fee paid for by the owners of radios sets would mean money could be reinvested
into the research and development of the service. Advertising was ruled
out by the Sykes Committee of 1923 because of the detrimental effect it
had on programmes in America. The American notion of broadcasting was based
on freedom whereas John Reith?s British one was completely different.
In 1926 the Crawford Committee decided
that the BBC should become more selective in its programmes and it was
“the broadcasting service should be conducted
by a public corporation acting as a trustee for the national interest and
its status and duties should correspond with those of a public service.”
(NEGRINE, Politics and the Mass Media,
The early creation of public service
broadcasting saw the BBC become informer and educator not simply entertainer.
The BBC was closely involved with the Adult Education Movement becoming
an integral part of young adult life after leaving school at 14. Reith?s
commitment to the public service mean that the service was of very high
quality. The tradition of the BBC as a public service also brought high
mindedness to the pioneers of broadcasting, who felt that the broadcasting
was their unique privilege. In the early stages of the BBC John Reith was
not alone in his uneasiness with popular culture, therefore in the first
25 years of broadcasting a pull in both directions was noticeable between
what the public wanted and want they ought to want.
Reith?s bureaucratic ?Iron Fisted?
approached moulded the BBC into a unique character whose long time monopoly
created a national institution for Britain. After developing as a small
series of regional networks, the BBC became primarily a national broadcaster.
The people of Britain were brought together and radio became an everyday
part of British life. The FA Cup final was first broadcast in 1927, in
the same year the Proms brought classical music available to everyone.
The Coronation in 1937 became the biggest event to that time in broadcasting
A lot like digital, these new innovations
were originally only available to the minority until Reith opened the range
out to reach the masses. By the end of the 1930?s, 70% of households owned
a radio set. However that was 70% of Britain and not just London. A feud
was stirring between the North and South as the concentration of broadcasting
was based in London. The people of the North feared a loss of their regional
identity through the suppressed use of regional accents. This anxiety was
shared by the Ministry of Information was suggested,
“Something might be done to diminish the
present predominance of the cultured voice upon the wireless. Every effort
should be made to get working class people to the microphone.”
(HOME MORALE COMMITTEE,pg144)
In the General Strike of 1926 press production
came to halt meaning that news was solely heard on the radio for the first
time. At that time Winston Churchill wanted to take over the BBC and use
it for mild propaganda. Reith however was totally against this, his arguments
were successful and the BBC ran itself on its own power supplies throughout
the strike continuing its public service. When the strike had ended Reith
“Since the BBC institution and since the
government in this crisis were acting for the people, the BBC was for the
government in this crisis too.”
(REITH, 1926,pg 120)
This impartiality showed the first
step to the BBC?s independence. The first major changes in broadcasting
happened during and after the Second World War. An initial decision not
to broadcast during the war was revoked meaning that a huge recruitment
campaign had to be launched after most of the BBC staff had been called
up. This saw the beginning of the end of the stuffy high mindedness that
had engulfed the BBC and it enabled the public to at last get what they
want. During the war a shift in programming saw the BBC show its first
substantial use of audience research, they asked soldiers in barracks what
they wanted to hear and then played it. A concentration of programming
with intent to entertain and inform was intensified during the war to keep
up spirits and moral.
In 1945 the BBC?s public service
was enhanced by the introduction of television. John Reith labelled television
as ?a social menace of the first order? which seemed an odd statement,
but perhaps he felt that after years of grooming radio for success, TV
would arrive and steal its thunder. In 1955 the BBC lost its long time
monopoly in broadcasting. ITV?s new service funded by advertisements created
a duopoly which was thought to be better for the industry. ITV brought
with it the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA now ITC) whose job
it was to regulate the channel. The introduction of ITV brought challenge
to the BBC, though John Reith?s original ideal for public service broadcasting
included ITV by means of programmes being informative, educational, entertaining
and overall of a public service.
The past twenty years have seen
many changes in British Broadcasting, breakfast television, teletext and
live television have all arrived. Quality of sound and picture has been
a major technical development. New terrestrial channels such as Channel
4 and Channel 5 have brought a greater choice for the viewer and the ever
increasing influx of new independent radio stations like Virgin 1215 and
Talk Radio have challenged the BBC?s long time monopoly. The BBC itself
introduced Radio5, then re-launched it to become a 24 hour news and sports
station called Radio Five Live.
The advance of technology in the
last ten years has brought the British public more choice. Sky and Cable
broadcasting companies have been offering a wider range of programmes on
and anything, Originally un-regulated the massive scale of choice brought
new sources of entertainment. As in 1937 when the FA Cup final was first
broadcast on radio, the Cricket World Cup of 1992 was exclusive to Sky
Sports causing major increases in sales.
Terrestrial television has changed
in many ways since its introduction in the 1950?s, two channels has become
five and the quality of programming has improved a great deal. John Reith?s
initial public service ethos as discussed earlier created a base for broadcastings
future, future that is until now. The introduction of digital television
will eventually see a change in Public Service Broadcasting but not the
end. Digital has brought its doubters and sceptics but surely this change
will be good for the audience, but will its be good for the BBC ? The new
ideal for Public Service Broadcasting that enters the new millennium is
similar to a large menu. Unlike the old Reithian values set out at the
beginning where an audience was given a service that was selected for them,
the paying viewer can select a specific programme or genre of their choice
at any time. Therefore broadcasting becomes a different type of public
service, creating a pay per view system which offers a world wide choice.
ONDigtal?s new pay per view system is the first in Britain. Chief Executive
Stephen Grabiner claims,
“Our research shows there is a high dissatisfaction
with existing pay TV operators. We know people want more choice and they
are prepared to pay for it, but they also want to be valued.”
(GRABINER, www.itn.co.uk, 17/02/99)
The standard of programming however
can then be open to question as more channel availability can create a
lack of quality. This lack of quality is where the BBC can succeed where
others might fail. The BBC throughout its 77 year history has been committed
to Public Service, its role as digital broadcaster is one that can safeguard
national culture by expressing a range of British talent across a world
wide stage as well as a UK one. It can encourage diversity by bringing
a range of new services and an extended choice in greater depth. The most
important way it can offer quality is by its unique way of being funded,
the licence fee is mandatory for television ownership therefore its annual
intake is guaranteed.
When cable and satellite originally
emerged, there was a worry regarding a lack of programming quality.
The more new choice available to the viewers, the more the audience will
decline for existing broadcasters. In January 1999 35.8% of all television
viewing belonged to satellite and cable, the BBC making up 28.7% and ITV
a further 25.2% Another factor that accounts for some of the loss audience
is the renewed popularity of films on video. New films until recently have
been available quicker on video than they are on Sky, Cable or terrestrial.
Sky?s new offering , Sky Box Office advertises the very latest movies on
demand the first of its kind in the UK will have an effect at not only
reducing terrestrial audience but also on Cinema audiences too.
In the Broadcasting Bill of 1990
the IBA was replaced with the Independent Television Commission (ITC).
As Cable and Satellite grew the alarm bells rang with a worry about lack
of quality programming. The ITC?s new role of licensing body and regulator
covered all non BBC channels meaning the new companies would not get away
with broadcasting anything. It differed from its predecessor in that it
will not be the broadcaster or publisher of programmes. The future brought
greater competition for the commercial television stations. The ITC is
required to issue a licence to prospective broadcasters and it is then
up to them to meet the guidelines set for them.
As entertainment becomes easier
to obtain, changes in viewing patterns increase with more choice on offer
to the viewer. An effect of Satellite television is the death of family
viewing which is more often in middle class families who can afford more
than one television. Instead of arguing about what to watch, the father
and son watch the football in one room whilst the mother is in the kitchen
watching anything but. This is one of the first examples of splitting
up an audience, when BSkyB bought the rights to the Premiership in 1992
it meant that when a viewer wanted to watch football they could originally
only see it in one room therefore people who didn?t had to go somewhere
else to watch their programme. Originally there was uproar about taking
football off terrestrial television and making people pay extra. In order
to gain more viewers Murdoch?s company had to front up big cash in order
for the clubs to buy decent players and therefore making the coverage worth
paying for. This was a great launching pad for Murdoch?s company. Football
has since returned to terrestrial television as ITV have bought rights
to the FA Cup and the European Champions League.
Freedom of choice can mean lack
of schedule which can ultimately threaten the terrestrial television viewer.
The BBC has in the past ten years lost many of its monopolies on sporting
events. Domestic league football, Boxing, Ryder Cup Golf and recently Test
Match Cricket have all been snapped up by BSkyB. BSkyB having many specific
channels is open to moving sporting events to midweek or to the evening
during terrestrial prime time. Viewing Patterns ultimately become scattered,
if you wanted to catch Eastenders on a Monday night, but also now with
more choice available you wanted to catch Manchester United on Sky Digital.
Something would have to give, therefore if you video Eastenders you can
watch it later or not at all.
A recent article in a newspaper
has warned the BBC to start making more quality dramas and documentaries
rather than cheap quiz shows. However it seems that the BBC has shot itself
in the foot by not using licence payers money to invest in keeping national
sporting events which are surely in the public interest. Maybe if they
had done this they would not need to produce cheap quiz shows to fill time.
More choice will increasingly affect
the way we run our lives. Hurrying home from work to watch a certain programme
or going to the pub on Saturday night has been occurring for a long time,
but it may not continue. Match of the Day is not the only place you can
see Premiership football now. The introduction of the video recorder saw
the downfall of programme scheduling and on commercial channels, advertising.