The BBC celebrates its centenary
Today – 18 October 2022 – marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the BBC, which began radio broadcasts in 1922.
This centenary is not only important in the history of UK society and global broadcasting, but also techUK itself. After all, some of the BBC’s founders would go on to form the British Radio and Valve Manufacturing Association, the direct ancestor of our association.
techUK therefore would like to mark the BBC’s 100 years by commemorating five (of many) occasions that saw the Corporation at the forefront of technical innovation:
1. November 1936, the world’s first ‘high-definition' regular TV service
The introduction of TV to the BBC’s remit was not an easy process. Two forms of television, including the mechanical TV of John Logie Baird and the electronic of Marconi EMI, competed to be the system the BBC would use for all future broadcasts. The Marconi EMI system won the contest, and the BBC began the world’s first regular high-definition TV service from Alexandra Palace in 1936.
‘High-definition’ in 1936 meant a minimum of 240 horizontal lines, which is well-below the 1080 horizontal line standard of modern, digital high definition television.
World War Two led to a temporary halt in the service. However, the BBC would continue its 405-line broadcasts begun in 1936 until 1985 and proved that a regular TV schedule was possible.
2. July 1967, the first colour TV service in Europe
Colour television had first been demonstrated by John Logie Baird in 1928, but regular colour television did not arrive in Europe until the launch of BBC Two in 1967.
The US, via NBC, had colour programming from 1954, but the BBC was the first to use the PAL colour system that would dominate in both Europe and the US.
Colour television opened up a realm of possibilities, including in the broadcast of sports such as snooker. BBC One and ITV switched over to a colour service by 1969, and colour television sets outnumbered black and white by 1976.
3. Late 1981, the BBC Micro Computer
In 1981, the BBC partnered with Acorn computers to develop the BBC Micro computer, as part of the Computer Literacy Project.
After some initial technical issues, the BBC would go on to sell over one million units. These were sold not just to individuals, but institutions such as schools.
The Micro ran on BASIC, and was designed to introduce anyone, including young children, to coding and computing.
The BBC’s computer was eventually superceded by more powerful models, but the chip that powered the computer would be developed by Acorn into the ARM microarchitecture.
The BBC itself has set up an archive of Micro games, for those who wish to take a trip down memory lane.
4. 2007, the foundation of BBC iPlayer
After its first foray into the online world in 1997, the BBC decided to launch its iPlayer service in 2007.
iPlayer was originally a peer-to-peer downloading service. By July 2008 though, it had become a radio and TV streaming service.
BBC iPlayer ended the feeling of “missing out” on the programme everyone was talking about that had existed since the beginning of broadcasting. It was also distributed not just on computers, but on television and eventually on mobile.
Interestingly, the BBC of 2008 already had an eye on modern streaming, suggesting that demand could become more driven by personal taste rather than the linear schedule in future.
5. 2022, the BBC’s 5G broadcast from the Commonwealth Games
The BBC used the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as a chance to test 5G’s broadcasting potential.
While accepting the technology was there, the BBC applied it at scale for the first time, using a private network to increase upload link speeds and to control the broadcast from a master station in London.
The trial, which went better than expected, suggests the BBC is still at the forefront of media technology innovation, in keeping with 100 years of tradition.
techUK therefore wishes the BBC a very happy centenary, and looks forward to what information, education and entertainment comes next.