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Re-sizing Parliament

Peter Knowles | 15:53 UK time, Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Today, as every day, I got a viewer's letter pointing out that the picture on BBC Parliament, crammed illegibly into one quarter of the Freeview screen, is not good enough. They even sent me a photo, to show me. Our announcement that from the 13th November it will be a normal broadcast picture (just in time for the Queen's Speech on the 15th) has come not a moment too soon.

bbcparliament.jpgWhat was meant to be an improvement to the audio-only service offered in the days of ITV Digital was neither understood nor appreciated by anyone. Many viewers assumed that the 3/4 of a screen filled with (mainly) dead text was a whim on our part, a symptom of advanced mania for graphics. Others concluded that they were doing something wrong with their remote control and could we please tell them which button to push? Bandwidth constraints... nah, that didn’t wash.

After receiving thousands of angry and perplexed letters and emails, there’s one that sticks in my mind - “it’s like looking at a postage stamp while listening to the radio”. Quite.

BBC Parliament, as it currently appears on FreeviewThanks to some brilliant work by the BBC's distribution department, the bandwidth issues finally got sorted and the channel on Freeview will look just like a proper one, as it already has done for years on cable and satellite. Sitting next to BBC News 24 on the EPG at channel 81, it makes that transition from the first part of a major statement or debate - which both channels are likely to carry - to the handover to BBC Parliament, both natural and easy.

BBC Parliament already reaches between three quarters of a million and a million viewers a month - this will go up with the growing success of that platform.

We’ve one more hurdle to cross. A lot of Freeview boxes are not very clever, and it means that many existing Freeview viewers will have to re-tune (from the 13th) to pick up the new full-screen channel. I think there may be one or two more letters and emails...


  • 1.
  • At 04:26 PM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

One of the things that is great about BBC Parliament is the repeats of BBC Election night coverage. Sadly I missed the recent repeat of the 1983 General Election night. It would be good if these repeats were given more publicity across the BBC.

  • 2.
  • At 04:48 PM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • James wrote:

I think the announcement is this one;

I know a lot of people will be really pleased with this - using it on satellite is great, especially for the Select Committee stuff.


There has NEVER been a bandwidth issue. The bandwidth which COULD have been used for BBC Parliament was instead used for the 301 and 302 screens so the BBC could play at having a sports channel without having to get DCMS approval for such.

That 301 and 302 sat unused for days at a time didn't seem to bother anyone.

That said, I'm sure many of us appreciate that the BBC have finally accepted that this issue needs to be resolved.

Thanks James, I've amended that.

  • 5.
  • At 05:03 PM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

I really enjoyed the 1983 Election broadcast and would like to know when it will be repeated and if there are any plans to screen the 1992/1997 elections? I emailed BBC Parliament on this point but never got a reply.........

  • 6.
  • At 07:17 PM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • Chris Brennen wrote:

Excellent news! I've written to you in the past Peter on various BBC Parliament issues, this being one of them, so I'm please you and the team, along with the technical guys have managed to get it sorted. Thank you!

  • 7.
  • At 07:17 PM on 25 Oct 2006,
  • Lawrence wrote:

Does this mean the BBCi News Multiscreen which has always shared its video stream with BBC Parliment will have to go, or does it mean thay can be improved with BBC Parliment moving to a new extra video stream?

Regarding Peter's post, not a fair statement, 301 / 302 are used for loads of really worthwhile content appreciate by a huge range of viewwers, such as BBC Sport, Test the Nation, Spooks Interactive, Doctor Who interactive, BBC Radio's special performamces, BBC Proms, etc etc

Finally! Not a moment too soon, I spent five minutes trying to fix that using only my remote.

I also enjoy the election repeats, perhaps on a Sunday would be perfect. Would love to see the 1992 and 1997 elections.

Not a moment too soon.
I've not been able to record bits I wanted to on my computer because of the silly system used.
Reports of Common Sense's death have been greatly exaggerated

Lawrence did you mean to reply to me re 301 and 302?

However much fun things like Spooks interactive are those streams sit empty for most of the year while a proper channel was relegated to a corner of a screen.

I'm not convinced that's the right order of priorities.

  • 11.
  • At 10:25 AM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Mike Richards wrote:

BBC Parliament is running repeat general elections?

Cool - can we press the red button to choose a different outcome?

  • 12.
  • At 10:26 AM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Richard Colley wrote:

Well done Peter and the team! Its great news! Keep up the hard work with BBC Parliament.

Does this mean that the text information given in the other 3/4 of the screen will be available by pressing the red button? I'm all in favour of increasing the picture size but don't want to lose any of the extra details and summaries.

  • 14.
  • At 12:51 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Jason Crawley wrote:

I echo the above comments about how enjoyable the archive General Election re-runs are, and I hope you as controller of the channel get enough of a sense of their popularity to continue running them.

I'd also like to see the 1992 election, if only to show that 14 years has beeb long enough for the BBC to swallow its embarrassment about the exit poll result.

  • 15.
  • At 12:52 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Excellent news. I never watch BBC Parliament, precisely because I find it looks so odd. I'm sure I shall watch it from now on, at least when I'm downstairs. For reasons I really don't understand, I can't get Freeview reception upstairs, even though the ariel cables are connected to the same ariel on my roof.

  • 16.
  • At 01:58 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

It doesn't take BBC's technological prowess to convince me that the British House of Commons is small. One look at Prime Minister's Question Time is proof positive that it is composed of small men who have disdain for their government, their collegues, and their office. Totally lacking in any personal dignity, they routinely portray themselvs as a gaggle of braying jackasses. Just compare it to any other deliberative government body meeting for any purpose or a Presidential news conference. The audience including those who sharply disagree with what the speaker is saying give him the courtesy of silence respecting everyone's right to hear what he says and his right to be heard. This has nothing to do with culture or tradition, it has to do with simple decency and respect one person has for another. Small men in a small Parliament on a small island, the British Age of Empire ended a long time ago. No matter how large the television image, it's small wonder!

  • 17.
  • At 02:19 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Tom Lichy wrote:

I'm deaf and many of the issues debated in Parliament have an impact on the deaf community. Does this new decision mean we will finally get subititles on the Parliament channel? I wanted to watch some debates recently, but couldn't due to the lack of subtitles. Is it possible to have a raw feed from the Hansard typists? This would avoid duplication of transcribing effort and kill two bird with one stone.

  • 18.
  • At 06:55 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Brian wrote:

The news that Parliament is to go full screen is absolutely fantastic. Wonderful news indeed.

Any chance of more old General Election broadcasts? The 1970 one would be great to see again. I was amazed to find this still exists as a broadcast quality 2" CVT. It looked incredible!

  • 19.
  • At 08:45 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

Just to add to the suggestion of repeating BBC General Election coverage, perhaps would also be a good idea to repeat political documentaries on a weekend evening such as the films made by Michael Cockerill, or even political dramas such as the excellent House Of Cards (though I guess the rights would be expensive) which I'm sure would raise awareness of the channel.

  • 20.
  • At 10:13 PM on 26 Oct 2006,
  • Chris Moore wrote:

I also agree about enjoying the General Election replays. I'm waiting to see February 1974 and April 1992. Any likelihood?


House of Cards was on BBC Four about a year ago so presumably it is affordable.

Personally I think the channel needs a budget boost - if I read the BBC annual report correctly the channel spends £500 per hour on original programming:

Table 15: Cost per hour of BBC-originated programmes by service:

2005/06 2004/05
£000 £000
BBC Parliament 0.5 0.5

Which seems pitiful to me.

When you consider the collective insight that people like Tony Benn, Anthony Howard and John Cole have into the last few decades of British Politics there must be a potentiall fantastic series of to be made there.

  • 22.
  • At 05:04 PM on 27 Oct 2006,
  • David Lonergan wrote:

In the past I remember seeing the majority of an individual MP credited on the screen next to their name when they were speaking. This seems to have stopped and I wonder if there any plans to bring this back.

  • 23.
  • At 07:12 PM on 27 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

BBC TV technicians could privately amuse themselves by changing the height/width aspect ratio of images in parliament shortening and widening the MPs by a factor of about 2:1. At the same time they could alter the audio by increasing the pitch of the MP's voices by an octave. This would be especially effective during Prime Minister's question time when they are all talking and jumping up and down at once. This would make them look and sound just like little Lilliputians and provide much amusement. I don't recommend broadcasting this to the public however, it would likely cost them their jobs. MPs might not appreciate being portrayed that way.

When every other broadcaster seem to be cramming as many video streams as possible on to a multiplex, it was good to know that the BBC prefer their channels to be visually watchable, unlike some others ITV. I hope this news won't have any impact on the quality of the Beeb's channels?

  • 25.
  • At 02:37 PM on 28 Oct 2006,
  • James Muscat wrote:

In reply to Martin and Lawrence - as I understand it, the stat-muxing of all Freeview channels (except BBC One) means that, while 301 and 302 broadcast with a static image, they take up very little bandwidth. I do agree that they've been under-utilised, though, and I would be more than happy to lose one of them to get a full-screen Parliament.

  • 26.
  • At 11:48 AM on 29 Oct 2006,
  • Ian Stanton wrote:

Dear Peter

It is great news that the Parliamenet Channel will be broadcast properly (again). I'm sure I remember watching it in full screen before, perhaps this was on cable or satelite.

I'm looking forward to seeing Gwyneth Dunwoody in action again in the Select Committees. I think she is an amazing politician.

Not everyone has the time to write to the BBC or to discovoer articles such as this. Might I suggest that you modify the welcome text on the screen to inform viewers that the broadcast problem will be fixed in November. I think this would put a lot of peoples' minds to rest and reassure them that they will be able to watch the channel in a few weeks time.

Ian Stanton


I do understand that the blank hours of 301/302 use little space but the fact that the BBC will happily use them for entire days output when it suits them means it was always possible to use one of them for BBC Parliament.

I have and never will accept that the chance to play Spooks Interactive, sing along with Maria or not watch another table/pitch/court during a sports event has justified the shoddy treatment of this channel.

  • 28.
  • At 01:54 PM on 31 Oct 2006,
  • Charmaine Westwood wrote:

As an avid watcher,via satellite/digital tv, I get rather cross when the names of the MPs are either omitted or added too late. We all know the Cabinet and Ministers but not all of us know which MP is asking a question. Also, often the text is 'off the page' -- will this also be rectified in November (which starts tomorrow!). More of BBC Parliament and the Select Committees cover would be most welcome.

  • 29.
  • At 08:54 PM on 31 Oct 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

I totally agree with Ian; the repeats of election night coverage are excellent. Not only could they be more publicised, but shown more often when Parliament is in recess instead of endless repeats of the same Select Committee hearings or episodes of The Record please?

Is there any plans for an audio channel on DAB?

  • 31.
  • At 09:44 PM on 05 Nov 2006,
  • Jim wrote:

It's good to see Parliament going full screen, and, incredible news that BBCi news multiscreen has tripled to 6 screens. It's also amazing to me that the BBC has managed to find space for the new and improved up and coming video loops (as seen on the SKY version of BBCi)

  • 32.
  • At 11:23 PM on 12 Nov 2006,
  • Chris Brennen wrote:

Where does it state that the BBCi multi-screens are going up to the six screens they have on satellite? I've not heard this mentioned, though it would be good if it's true! So far, I've only heard rumours about it, so can you clarify the source?

  • 33.
  • At 08:49 AM on 13 Nov 2006,
  • Pat Oddy wrote:

I've had the 13th ringed in my diary and have been crossing off the days! Where is it! Where is the full-screen? I've retuned my box and everything ...

  • 34.
  • At 04:53 AM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • GUY FOX wrote:

Scrutinizing my name, ewe folks across the pond might surmise that I'd like to make Parliament $maller... much $maller

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