22 August 1932: BBC starts early TV broadcasts

In October 1922, the British Broadcasting Corporation was set up to provide radio broadcasts to the UK. The new technology proved so successful that by 1930 half of all households had a radio licence.

By 1932, the BBC had turned its attention to a new technology: it gave John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, studio space to conduct experimental broadcasts.

Within two years of the tests starting, extended trials of both Baird’s system and one developed by EMI and Marconi were commissioned, with EMI/Marconi’s ending up being chosen. From August 1936, a regular TV service ran until it was shut down on the eve of World War II (due to fears it could inadvertently help German bombers to navigate).

In 1946, the TV service resumed. Despite post-war austerity the number of viewers rocketed, with 20 million people watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

However, there were fears that the BBC’s monopoly on TV would stifle debate and innovation. So the Television Act of 1954 set up the Independent Television Authority to allocate regional franchises for a commercial television channel, funded by advertising.

The first of these stations began broadcasting in 1955, and by 1962 the whole of the UK was covered. Channel 4 was introduced in 1982 and Channel 5 began in 1997.

Yet despite pressure from rival stations, cable and satellite TV, the BBC currently captures around a third of UK viewers (with 85% of people watching it at least once a week).

But the annual TV licence fee that funds it has come under fire, with some arguing it should be replaced by a voluntary subscription.

Merryn

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