Inside BBC Television Centre


Toured the BBC Television Centre while in the UK last week. The BBC, which is considered the largest broadcasting organization in the world, houses its television operations at the Centre in White City and Shepherd’s Bush in West London housing most of the 5,000+ employees.

First up, a little history of the Television Centre facility. The facility officially opened in June of 1960, having seen the likes of Doctor Who, Fawlty Towers and Blue Peter get their starts there. Aerial shots of Television Centre show a structure that is designed for maximum efficiency with 11 operating studios but, oddly enough, one that looks exactly like a question mark. Operations and staff move in 2012 and will be combined at Broadcasting House, the home of BBC Radio, which is currently under renovation at Oxford Circus in central London. Much of the television production will be relocated to the Manchester studios of the BBC.

Next up, the driving force behind the BBC News operation. There are 2,000 employed in the news of which 1,400 are working journalists, making it the largest news operation in the world with CNN a distant second at 1/3 its size. Of particular interest in the news area was the breakdown of 80% planned news items and 20% breaking news items in a daily newscast and the fact that the news presenters are “real journalists” with 15-18 years experience in the field all over the world prior to their studio work.

Next up, a very cool weather operation. Approximately 120 weathercasts are produced and transmitted daily from a studio the size of a small closet. The weather is a solo operation with the presenter operating a remote-control panel which sets lighting and camera positions that are pre-programmed according to the individual presenter. Standing in front of a green screen we see London, UK and Europe weather created that varies up to two minutes in length for each broadcast.

Leaving news, we ended the tour with a glimpse of the historic Studio 8 which has seen productions over the years of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Only Fools and Horses, Friday Nights with Jonathan Ross and Mock the Week. Depending on the show, the studio audience seating can be pulled out or stored away providing for more studio space. Next time you’re wondering about cost, daily rental excluding production costs, studio staffing, talent, etc for the studio runs approximately £40,000 pounds.

While the BBC is the public broadcasting service for the United Kindom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, funding is quite different from its U.S. counterpart of PBS. If you own a television set in the UK, you are required to pay approximately £145.50 per household per year (you get a discount if you only own a black and white set) whether you watch the BBC or not. Not a bad deal for 4 BBC TV analog channels + plus several digital stations offerings along with 7 BBC Radio services, five on analog and two on digital platforms.

When the relocation is completed in 2012, the BBC Broadcasting House will house the largest live newsroom in the world, amazingly enough, just in time for the London Olympics 2012. How do they do that?