The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster in the United Kingdom (UK) that has featured prominently in British life and culture since its formation in 1922.
From 1922 to 1927 the BBC existed as a private company, known as the 'British Broadcasting Company'. The company was formed on 18 October 1922 by a group of leading wireless manufacturers, who had been making public radio broadcasts since 1920.
The company was created under a licence from the General Post Office (GPO), the government department responsible for the postal service and telecommunications. The company was financed by royalties on sales of BBC wireless receiving sets from approved domestic manufacturers.
The company made its first radio broadcast on 14 November 1922 on the service '2LO'.
Scottish engineer, John Reith, was appointed its General Manager in December 1922. Reith would go on to become the Company's managing director in 1923 and from 1927 to 1938 was the first Director-General of the Corporation. His idea of broadcasting as a way to 'inform, educate and entertain' was to strongly shape the output of the BBC.
The future of broadcasting by the BBC was reviewed in two committees commissioned by the government – the Sykes Committee (headed by Sir Frederick Sykes) in 1923 and the Crawford Committee (headed by David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford) in 1925. Based on the outcome of these reviews, on 1 January 1927 the British Broadcasting Company was reorganised as a public service: the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was to function under a Royal Charter and operate under an Agreement with the UK Government. It was headed by the Director-General and an independent Board of Governors. A monopoly on all broadcasting by the BBC was formally introduced, as well as a prohibition on advertising. A receiving licence was required to listen to broadcasts, which was a fixed fee of ten shillings, with royalties no longer going to the wireless companies.
The Corporation grew rapidly in its first few years of operation. From 1930 it began to focus on experimental television broadcasts. A regular 'BBC Television Service' began broadcasting from Alexandra Palace in London in November 1936.
The BBC also began to broadcast outside of the UK to countries that were then part of the British Empire, with the BBC Empire Service starting on 19 December 1932. This service expanded during the Second World War and by the end of 1942, the BBC had started broadcasts in all major European languages, with many other languages soon following.
In wartime the BBC played a large part in providing news and entertainment to the forces, the British public and allies overseas. Many of the BBC's operations were moved out of London and the government's Ministry of Information worked closely with the BBC to broadcast propaganda and boost morale.
Television broadcasting was suspended from 1 September 1939 to 7 June 1946. After the reopening of the television service, the BBC introduced a Television Licence that was required to receive television broadcasts. This would become the Corporation's principal source of income. Television Licences originally incorporated a licence to receive radio broadcasts, but by 1971 only television transmissions required a licence. The Licence Fee continues to fund the BBC, and, along with the Royal Charter, provides the basis of its mission statement 'to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain'. The Licence Fee is reviewed by the UK Government at the renewal of the BBC's Charter, roughly every ten years.
The BBC broadened its range of services throughout the second half of the twentieth century. An additional television channel (BBC2) launched in 1964, and radio stations were reorganised in 1967, to provide four national stations (Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4) and a range of local stations. Further digital radio stations and television channels were introduced in the early 2000s, along with online content (including catch-up services), high-definition (HD) television and interactive television.
In 1969, the BBC Enterprises department was formed to exploit BBC brands and programmes. On 15 May 1979, it became a wholly owned company, BBC Enterprises Ltd. which supplemented the income generated by the Licence Fee.
From the 1980s onwards the UK television and radio market was deregulated as the number of competing channels and services in the commercial sector increased rapidly, across satellite, cable and digital television. This coincided with a shift from programmes being largely made in-house by the BBC to a proportion being commissioned from independent production companies.
At this point the BBC began to further separate its strands of business into subsidiaries or sell them to private owners, a process that would continue into the 2000s. BBC Enterprises was reorganised and relaunched on 1 January 1995 as BBC Worldwide Ltd. Other areas that were sold included BBC Costumes and Wigs (2011), BBC Books (2006), BBC Magazines (2011) and BBC Outside Broadcasts (2008).
In 2015 the BBC split its in-house television production units into a separate production and distribution company, which was registered as BBC Studios Ltd. on 27 February 2015. It brought together the television production departments of Comedy, Drama, Entertainment, Music & Events, and Factual. All other areas of television, including channels, genre and commissioning remained in-house. In April 2018, BBC Studios Ltd. incorporated BBC Worldwide Ltd., to make it a single company responsible for both production and distribution of BBC programmes.
In the Charter renewal of 2007, the Board of Governors was replaced by the BBC Trust as the independent governing body of the BBC. These duties were then transferred to a new BBC Board in April 2017, with regulation and review of BBC broadcasting provided by Ofcom (the regulatory authority for all broadcasting in the UK).