Digital Broadcasting Essay Research Paper AbstractThis essay

Digital Broadcasting Essay, Research Paper Abstract This essay intends to discuss the following statement; Digital Broadcasting will have a fundamental

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”.

(ECKERSLEY, 1922,pg112)

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

suggested that,

“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.”


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

commented that,

“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,, 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.

If the show is on video it is preferable to fast forward during the advert

breaks meaning they are subsequently ignored. This however causes the adverts

to be shown again more often on other channels eventually meaning that

the advert w8ill reach the viewer.

As we move into the millennium we

are becoming ever increasingly dependent on computers. A digital television

picture is an additional component to our everyday PC, it is offering us

a new facility for our computers but it is also updating our televisions

by turning them into computers. Our 21st century technological wizardry

is trying to make our lives as easy as possible by letting the viewer do

everything from the touch of a button in front of a large screen that used

to be called a television. John Reith?s initial Public Service Broadcasting

idea has moved on in time. Firstly it was changed when ITV was introduced,

since then it has been reformed with the introduction of the ITC and is

now in touch with societies needs. Reith ruled the BBC in those early days

with an ?Iron Fist? a lot like Rupert Murdoch has ruled his BSkyB company,

though a quest for world media domination was not what Reith had in mind.

Public Service Broadcasting has moved with the times, but the advent of

new technology and better services is the main reason behind changes in

viewing patterns. Viewers can now watch many different things at the same

time, one persons idea of entertainment is now more likely to be different

to another, Digital Broadcasting solves this problem by giving something




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Word Finder?


Readers Digest


?BBC Digital?

?Pay TV Company British Digital Broadcasting…?


?Put Quality 1st, Smith to warn BBC?

Daily Mail – Monday 12 April 1999

?Sky Facts 1999?

British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC