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Olympic viewing

Peter Knowles | 10:38 UK time, Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Why did the BBC decide to drop BBC Parliament from Freeview for three weeks in August, in favour of Olympics coverage? The Guardian's website reckons it's designed to bump up ratings to BBC Parliament on the back of all the Games viewers. Not so. It would be madness for us to claim soaring ratings one summer only to see them vanish again, the next.

BBC Parliament logoRatings to BBC Parliament have come along very nicely without any such tricks. The channel has been averaging a monthly reach of 1.3 million so far this year. It was only last year that we reached an average of one million for the first time.

By taking BBC Parliament off air on Freeview for three weeks the BBC will be able deliver a sports service on Freeview that is much closer to the service being offered on the other platforms. It makes complete sense from the viewer's point of view to bring the service on Freeview, where bandwidth is most scarce, up to strength and to have as many interactive streams, showing as many different sports, as possible.

Freeview viewers will get BBC Parliament back in time for the Democratic National Convention in Denver, starting 25 August, when we'll be showing C-SPAN's gavel to gavel coverage of the conventions through the night, with daytime repeats. The conventions roll on into the TUC and the party conference season.

Olympic flagBBC Parliament has a tiered approach to the schedules when Westminster is in recess. Some recess weeks allow us to show live the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies. At Easter, we had all three.

In Whit Week we will have two specials: Permissive Night on 26 May with Joan Bakewell marking the big social and legal changes sweeping through Britain 40 years ago, and on 30 May a broadcast of the 1983 general election night programme coming up to its 25th anniversary. Look out for changes in accents and manners, even over that time span.

In the long recesses we show a loop of highlights from the term just gone, mixed in with documentaries and landmark speeches. It is not realistic to expect big audiences to BBC Parliament in August and it would be a bit odd to pour resources into this part of the schedule. If Parliament were recalled in the event of a national crisis, of course the channel would be back on air on Freeview, straight away. The loop will continue to run on all other platforms (Sky, Freesat, cable, Tiscali, online) throughout the summer.

Strange to tell, the idea for the sharing of the bandwidth for the Olympics actually came from BBC Parliament, when we started thinking about the prospects for the London Olympics. The BBC is trying to get away from thinking in terms of departments (what used to be described as output 'baronies') and to start working as one organisation. The idea is simply to do the best we can by the licence payer.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm not sure what the fuss is, the whole idea seems to make perfect sense to me.

  • Comment number 2.

    I personally think its a great idea - if only we could a BBC sport channel full time, to compete with Sky Sports, and complement the BBC News Channel.

  • Comment number 3.

    Seems like a perfectly good idea. It's just bandwidth after all, and it's somewhat wasted when there's no parliament in session.

    I don't really watch much sport, but I'll probably see the odd bit of the Olympics, so having more choice on Freeview is great.

  • Comment number 4.

    Seems like a sensible plan - it's summer after all, Parliament isn't sitting, as you yourselves admit, you'd only be showing looped 'repeats'. Anyone who tries to claim that sport is winning over is probably not looking at the detail.

  • Comment number 5.

    Can we have BBC Paliament for half the day and BBC Sport the rest of the time? Then minority sports might get some airtime rather than just football and snooker. Could we have some cricket back, too.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not entirely an original idea. In the USA, the NBC-owned cable networks have cut their own programs out to air the Olympics.
    I still think it's a good idea though.

  • Comment number 7.

    "If Parliament were recalled in the event of a national crisis, of course the channel would be back on air on Freeview, straight away."

    Can we have a binding guarantee of this please?

  • Comment number 8.

    just run the re-runs anything is more interesting than the olympics

  • Comment number 9.

    isuport the idea on allowing bbc using parliament channel for the olympics!

  • Comment number 10.

    "channel has been averaging a monthly reach of 1.3 million so far this year"

    A little generous.. BBC Parliament has NEVER managed a viewing share of 0.1% in the whole time it has been on air, according to BARB.

    Yes, the Guardian missed the point that the BBC Parliament stream will close on Freeview, with the bandwidth going to a BBCi stream.

    I have to say that I agree that BBCi Sport should be promoted to a proper 'BBC Sport' channel, simply supplemented by BBC News sports service when no live sport is being aired.

    The channel could then be off-aired when the bandwidth is needed (on Freeview) for live music or other interactive services.

    Personally looking forward to HD Olympics on BBC HD on Freesat!

  • Comment number 11.

    If there is any HD coverage of the Olympics it will only be available to Sky customers. That's all I know.

  • Comment number 12.

    "If there is any HD coverage of the Olympics it will only be available to Sky customers. That's all I know."

    Maimonides - that isn't true. The BBC HD Channel (which will include HD Olympics) is also available on Freesat - the new free to air satellite service from the BBC and ITV.

    You just need to get a Freesat box and plug it in to your dish.

  • Comment number 13.

    If there's going to be a dedicated Olympics channel, does that mean the other channels won't be showing sport so that those people who have no interest in the Olympics can still get their licence fee's worth?

  • Comment number 14.

    I did wonder how long it would take before the petty "I don't like Sport" arguments would start. It's a channel providing extra coverage, in addition to the coverage on BBC1/2.

    Jonathan (#13), you do realise that there are a lot of us who pay our license fee to watch sport and have "no interest" in vast swathes of the other BBC programming, which we have to 'put up with'. Don't see us complaining though!

  • Comment number 15.

    In a earlier dispatch, i forgot to mention, that...

    Thanks BBC for covering the up-coming conventions...

  • Comment number 16.

    Now which games will be more exciting and for which will the outcome matter to the world more, the games in Beijing or the games in Denver? The games in Westminster never matter and are never exciting. Nothing of importance ever happens in Westminster. zzzzzzzzzz

  • Comment number 17.

    MarcusAureliusII (No.16) I've watched Westminster games a few times, and they can be quite interesting. The trick is, to not care about the subject matter of debate (that is, the UK), but to score points to MPs for repetition of argument, ignoring anyone else, wilful ignorance, complete lack of awareness of a world outside Westminster and anything else you can think of. Occasionally you get some spoil sport who actually cares about the UK, and may even think! I tend to feel sorry for them and hope that they'll get out of parliament and start doing something useful instead. Be that as it may, they're quickly put down by the better players, so they don't spoil the sport for that long.

  • Comment number 18.

    Showing the Olympics on the Parliament Channel seems like a great, and sensible, idea.

    On another note, presumably by Whit Week you mean Spring Bank Holiday half term week? Whit Week, being the week which follows Whitsunday, is already long gone, as Easter was early this year.

  • Comment number 19.

    Here, here, badgercourage-- I think it's perfectly sensible for the BBC to cover the Olympics when Parliament is in recess, but let's see a real commitment to sport by showing all of the major four, including cricket. It's the fourth most popular sport nationwide, yet the only BBC TV coverage was highlights of the World Cup- no test matches! At least bid for the rights this time!

  • Comment number 20.

    I watched the Westminster Kennel Club dog show a few times. Do they show that on the Parliament Channel too? Last week I wached "Gordo" as I now call him deliver his speech on the Government's Legislative Program and considering how disruptive and disrespectful the MPs were to the point where the Speaker had to stop the proceedings several times to ask them to be quiet, I must say that IMO on the whole the dogs were much better behaved.

  • Comment number 21.

    @Jordan D: evidently you failed to detect the irony in my previous comment. No-one in their right mind would believe the BBC would free up their standard channels for non-Olympic programming.

    Many people have no interest in sport, and others won't be watching the Olympics this year as we disapprove of the Chinese regime having an opportunity to spread their propaganda, 1936-style. Fortunately, it being the summer, we'll have much better things to be doing than sitting in front of the TV. It's a pity you don't.

  • Comment number 22.

    Revised my earlier comments:

    I support the idea of allowing BBC Parliament channel for the olympics....Since, in that time of year, the Parliament is in Summer Holidays and for, the Conventions because they are news worthy events....

    ~Dennis Junior~



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