This essay has a total of 3092 words and 16 pages.
This essay intends to discuss the following statement;
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 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, pg82)
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 history.
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 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
Read essay without registering
Donate an essay now and get the full essay emailed you