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 comprised of just over 200 highly specialist research engineers, scientists, ethnographers, designers, producers and innovation professionals 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 December 2016Download PDF (160KB)
The Legal Agreement
An Agreement Between Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Broadcasting CorporationDownload PDF (260KB)
Extract from The Legal Agreement, Article 65
(1) The BBC must ensure that it conducts research and development activities geared to the fulfilment of the Mission and the promotion of the Public Purposes and which aim to maintain the BBC’s leading role in research and development in broadcasting and other means for the distribution and consumption of audio, visual and audiovisual material and other content, and in related technologies.
(2) In carrying out its function under paragraph (1), the BBC must pay particular attention to supporting and engaging actively in national and international forums for the development of “open standards” (that is to say, technologies where opportunities to participate in their creation are made widely available, free of charge or on terms that are fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory).
(3) These activities should be conducted both within the BBC and, as much as possible, 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 BBC must keep its 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 its intellectual property, and
(b) the value that might be delivered to the public and the UK economy by making new developments widely and openly available.
(5) The BBC must undertake a review of its research and development activity and spend which must include-
(a) a cost benefit analysis (which includes an analysis of the value delivered for the public and the creative and wider economy);
(b) a qualitative assessment of the success achieved as a result of the investment in research and development activity, taking into consideration at least the previous Charter period, and up to the date of the review; and
(c) consideration of objectives for the future, and potential ways in which the BBC may be able to improve collaboration with others to deliver increased value for the public as a result of this work.
(6) The BBC must undertake the review, and publish its findings thereafter, as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event not later than 31st December 2020.