BBC engineers have been at the forefront of developments in broadcast technology since the founding of public service broadcasting in the UK.
Whether it’s noise-cancelling microphones in the 1930s, the first transatlantic television transmission in the 1950s, Ceefax in the 1970s, digital radio in the 1990s and HD TV in the 2000s, or the challenge to ‘broadcasting’ brought about by the internet and interactive media, BBC Research & Development has led the way with innovative technology and collaborative ways of working.
This role in the broadcast industry is no accident. Uniquely funded by the licence fee, R&D is enshrined in the BBC’s Royal Charter and agreement with the UK government to provide “a centre of excellence” for research and development in broadcasting and the electronic distribution of audio, visual and audiovisual material.
Based in Research Labs in the North and South of the UK, the department is made up of more than 100 highly specialist research engineers, scientists, ethnographers, designers and producers, working on every aspect of the broadcast chain, from Audiences, Production and Distribution right through to the Programmes themselves.
Our work is best when we collaborate with others and it benefits the wider industry, and as such, we continue to seek partners in universities, businesses and other broadcasters with whom we can share knowledge, exchange best practice and develop next generation systems and standards.
And while the age of the internet continues to affect the broadcast industry, re-interpreting the very term “broadcasting” and providing new ways of watching and listening, R&D remains at the heart of the BBC’s commitment to innovate, and its mission to inform, educate and entertain.
The activities of BBC R&D are constitutionally required of the BBC Royal Charter and the legal agreement between the BBC and the government, which expands the detailed points therein.
The Royal Charter
Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport by Command of Her Majesty October 2006Download PDF (267KB)
The Legal Agreement
An Agreement Between Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Broadcasting CorporationDownload PDF (349KB)
Extract from The Royal Charter, Clause 87
The BBC’s research obligations:
(1) The Executive Board must ensure that the BBC conducts research and development activities geared to the promotion of the BBC’s Public Purposes and which aim to maintain the BBC’s position as a centre of excellence for research and development in broadcasting and other means for the electronic distribution of audio, visual and audiovisual material, and in related technologies.
(2) In carrying out its function under paragraph (1), the Executive Board must pay particular attention to the desirability of supporting actively in national and international forums the development of “open standards” (that is to say, technologies where opportunities to participate in their creation and to use them are made widely available, free of charge or on terms that must be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory).
(3) These activities should be conducted both within the BBC and in co-operation with suitable partners, such as university departments and businesses which are active in relevant fields of research and development or the practical application of the fruits of such research and development.
(4) The Executive Board must keep the BBC’s research and development activities under review, and must (in particular) ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between—
- (a) the potential for generating revenue through commercial exploitation of itsintellectual property, and
- (b) the value that might be delivered to licence fee payers and the UK economy by making new developments widely and openly available.