The Changing Face of the BBC

We’ve analysed 80 years of BBC TV schedules to build up a picture of its evolution. Has kids’ TV died? Is drama in crisis? Are ‘lifestyle’ shows taking over? Find out inside.

View by

Hours broadcast per year Percentage

Displaying years

19362015

The rise of Auntie Beeb

Since launching a single channel in 1936, the BBC’s TV output has grown immensely. New channels and a longer broadcasting day have all combined to push it beyond 45,000 hours per year.

  • The rise of Auntie Beeb Since launching a single channel in 1936, the BBC’s TV output has grown immensely. New channels and a longer broadcasting day have all combined to push it beyond 45,000 hours per year.
  • The rise of Auntie Beeb Early growth was abruptly halted by World War 2, amid concerns the broadcasts would act as a beacon for the enemy. TV owners had to wait until June 1946 for programmes to resume.
  • Are you sitting comfortably? Children’s programming grew steadily through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, along the way introducing Muffin the Mule, Blue Peter, Play School, Jackanory, and Grange Hill.
  • Are you sitting comfortably? After a dip in the mid-’80s, growth resumed, but in 2013 virtually all children’s programmes abruptly vanished from the two main channels. The end of an era.
  • Are you sitting comfortably? But this was the completion of a digital transition. New channels, including two dedicated to children, had already boosted output by around 9,000 hours per year.
  • Making a crisis out of drama Drama boomed at the BBC, home to countless iconic series such as Doctor Who, Z-Cars, The Singing Detective, Edge of Darkness, Pride and Prejudice, House of Cards, Casualty, and EastEnders.
  • Making a crisis out of drama But since 2009, drama output has almost halved. Is this a worrying decline, or just a sign of focusing on quality over quantity?
  • Dumbing down? The rise in ‘lifestyle’ programmes can be attributed to shows like Flog It!, Escape to the Country, and The One Show, and regularly leads to accusations of going ‘downmarket’.
  • Dumbing down? However, ‘lifestyle’ output is still only a third of the size of the BBC’s factual broadcasting, which includes prized programmes such as Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries.
  • The last picture show It seems that there’s no longer any room for films on BBC One. From a peak of over 1,200 hours in 1998, that category has plummeted to just 490 hours per year.
  • Breaking: more news News is the BBC’s biggest category, taking up 40% of its TV output. This is largely driven by the News and Parliament channels.
  • Breaking: more news It’s not just about those dedicated outlets though - when looking at BBC One alone, news still dominates due to huge growth during the ’80s and early ’90s.
  • 80 years and beyond So far this millennium, the BBC’s broadcast output has been fairly stable. But with the rise of iPlayer, and BBC Three going online-only, what will happen over the coming years?

Exit the tour to explore the categories and channels and delve into the data yourself (you can then restart the guided tour later)

Using the BBC Genome Project and BBC Programmes, we sampled 28 random days per year (distributed as one of each day of the week per quarter to control seasonal effects), manually categorised every programme, then scaled figures up to full years. Renamed/repurposed channels were merged (Choice with Three, Knowledge with Four) and any gaps in itemised scheduling (eg early years of News/Parliament) were filled with sensible extrapolations.

Home Insurance Digital TV
The Changing Face of the BBC

To see the full interactive version, please use a modern, JavaScript-enabled browser