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Superbrands case studies: BBC

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume IV', May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

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Case study provided by the Superbrands organisation.


The UK broadcasting industry has changed beyond all recognition since the BBC was first launched in 1922. The twenty first century technological revolution is dramatically changing the broadcasting and media environments, as telecommunications, IT and broadcast media converge and revolutionise traditional communications.

Digital broadcasting has led to the launch of hundreds of new niche and broad-based entertainment and educational channels and established broadcasters now face unprecedented competition, given the dramatic increase in the number of multi-channel homes.

The internet has been a catalyst for radical change, spearheading the convergence of traditional broadcasting and communications media and leading to the creation of global giants, such as the merger between AOL and Time Warner.

Audiences can now access entertainment and information in whatever media format they want, whenever they want. Interactive and digital television, EPGs (electronic programme guides), WAP phone technology and digitally enhanced video recorders are providing audiences with more choice than ever before.

The challenge for established and new broadcasters and service providers alike is to ensure brand presence and standout across a broad range of multi-media. The need for relevant, focused and clearly positioned brands and marketing strategies has never been greater.


The BBC has been the most significant British broadcaster for over 78 years and has become a world-renowned trademark for quality, professionalism and innovation. For almost a century the corporation has delivered the corporate challenge laid down by its first Director General, John Reith, "to educate, entertain and inform".

Throughout history the BBC has not only been responsible for groundbreaking programming but also for pioneering technological and broadcasting innovation. From its inception as a radio broadcaster in 1922 to the launch of colour television in 1967, Ceefax in 1974, NICAM stereo in the 1980s and enhanced digital services in the 1990s, the BBC has continued to set the benchmark for quality broadcasting.

The BBC remains the most trusted broadcaster audiences turn to at times of national significance. Over twelve million people chose to welcome in the new millennium with the BBC at midnight on December 31st 1999, representing a 60% share of viewers, versus four million (20%) for ITV.

The BBC's acclaim is worldwide and BBC World Service now reaches over 150 million homes. Its global presence is enhanced by BBC America and BBC World channels, ensuring there is a major British voice in an increasingly global media market.

The BBC has become a national institution, universally recognised for the depth, breadth and quality of its award-winning news, drama, comedy, natural history, music and factual programming and content. Walking with Dinosaurs was the most popular factual television programme ever and was nominated for a record number of six Prime Time Emmys in America. It is just one of the many quality programmes that helped BBC Television in 1999 to win 21 BAFTAs, nineteen Royal Television Society Awards and five Montreux International Television Awards, including the Golden Rose. BBC Radio also received 21 Sony Awards, including Station of the Year for BBC Radio 2.


Formed in October 1922, the British Broadcasting Corporation was originally launched as a commercial radio broadcaster. Five years later, in 1927, it received its Royal Charter, establishing it as the UK's public service broadcaster.

The BBC has developed into a national institution, offering a range of multi-media broadcast services providing access to high quality, distinctive programming and content to all its licence fee payers. Innovations from its early years have become enduring institutions, such as the time 'pips' which have been used on the hour, every hour since 1924. The Week in Westminster, launched in 1930, is still broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 4. 1932 saw the launch of the Empire Service (a forerunner to today's BBC World Service) and the BBC's first major live outside broadcast was of George VI's coronation in 1937.

During World War II the BBC established itself as the voice of the nation in the UK and of resistance in Europe, marking key historical moments, including the declaration of war by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, as well as King George VI's and Winston Churchill's speeches to the nation.

BBC Television began broadcasting with the launch of its first channel in 1939. Transmissions were closed down during the war, but resumed in 1946 and continued to capture moments of national and historical significance with the transmission of live pictures of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation from Westminster in 1953 and man's first steps on the moon in 1966.

The BBC's second television channel, BBC Two, was launched in 1964. Full colour television transmissions, again pioneered by the BBC, began in 1967, together with the launch of BBC Radio 1 and local radio. Other major developments included Ceefax (1974), breakfast television (1983), Nicam Stereo (1980s) and the introduction of BBC World Service television in 1991.

In September 1955, the launch of ITV, a national advertiser-supported channel made up of regional franchises, provided the BBC's first commercial broadcasting rival. This duopoly lasted until the launch of Channel 4 in 1982 and domestic competition increased further in 1997 with the launch of Channel 5, the latest terrestrial player.

The most significant development in the industry, however, has been the explosion of cable and satellite channels, dominated in the UK by BSkyB, launched in 1989.


The BBC is the most valued provider of broadcast services in the UK, reaching 95% of all households every week. Its service comprises two national television channels, BBC One and BBC Two, five national radio stations, BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Live, 39 local radio stations and dedicated services for listeners in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It has also launched, during 1997-2000, four public service digital television channels - BBC News 24, BBC Choice, BBC Knowledge and BBC Parliament.

BBC World Service radio broadcasts in 44 languages to over 140 million homes and BBC Online is the most popular content-based website outside of Europe, achieving more than 150 million page visits a month.

News remains at the heart of the BBC's public service purpose. It has the largest news gathering operation in the world with over 2000 journalists in 55 bureaux and has built an unrivalled reputation for delivering high quality impartial in-depth reporting. BBC News 24, launched in 1997, provides 24 hour rolling news.

The BBC is the world-leading provider of education and learning for a multi-media environment and transmits more general and specialised programming than any other broadcaster.

The BBC's public services are funded by an annual licence fee. As part of its public service remit the BBC is committed to providing an innovative and dynamic mix of national and regional programming, some of which would be commercially unattractive to independent channels, to meet the requirements of a diverse range of licence fee paying audiences.

BBC publicly funded services carry no advertising or sponsorship. The BBC does, however, make use of its archive and brand portfolio on a commercial basis to supplement the licence fee. This is achieved though programme and publishing sales and commercial joint ventures from which the profit is reinvested into the core licence fee service.

BBC Worldwide is the BBC's wholly-owned commercial subsidiary. It is responsible for selling BBC magazines, videos, books, audio and visual materials worldwide and in 1999 generated an additional £81 million revenue for the BBC. In the UK, it has launched five subscription channels under the UKTV brand in a joint venture with Flextech. A joint venture with the Discovery Channel is leading to the establishment of a worldwide network of factual channels. BBC America has been successfully launched in the US; and BBC World, a global continuous television news service, is in 167 million homes and hotels worldwide.

Recent developments

The BBC has a duty to fulfil its public service remit to satisfy its audiences in the UK with 'services that inform, educate, entertain and enrich their lives in a way that the market alone will not'. Because of the unique way it is funded, the BBC is able to provide to audiences a diverse range of services, which may not prove attractive or viable to commercial broadcasters. New channels, services and continued high quality programming are ensuring that licence fee payers receive the best possible value for money.

Launches in recent years include a rolling 24 hour new channel, BBC News 24. BBC News now reaches approximately 360 million people a week through its television, radio and online services. A new digital channel, BBC Knowledge, has been successfully launched, together with a new digital text service, BBC Text, the first of its kind on digital terrestrial television. Wimbledon 2000 was supported by a new enhanced interactive text service, providing a comprehensive results and information service, and technological advances have led to the launch of new online and WAP phone listing services, providing detailed BBC programme and content information.

Original and inspiring content and programming are key to the delivery of the BBC's public service remit and it has continued to provide a rich variety of exceptional factual, drama and comedy content. Walking with Dinosaurs, The Planets, MacIntyre Undercover and Castaway 2000 are just some of the factual series produced. Outstanding drama included Wives and Daughters, Gormenghast, Great Expectations and BBC Radio 4's Nicholas Nickleby. The winning line of comedy was headed by The Royle Family and included The League of Gentlemen and Goodness Gracious Me.

Other initiatives include the GCSE Bitesize campaign, which was used by more than 65% of all GCSE students, and successful social campaigns such as Get Your Kit On, Kick The Habit and History 2000.

BBC Music Live 2000, a five day national music event, culminated with a global audience of 100 million coming together for the BBC's 'Perfect Day' which was transmitted simultaneously across BBC One, BBC Two, BBC World Service, BBC News 24, BBC local, national and regional radio networks and BBC Online.


The BBC is recognised as one of the world's leading media brands and is respected and trusted for its creativity, integrity, and impartiality. The letters B, B, C have become instantly recognisable to audiences worldwide as a trademark of quality broadcast services. In 1997 the BBC relaunched its corporate identity to take it into the twenty first century and the digital age of broadcasting. A simpler logo was devised and implemented across all brands, services and channels, to ensure consistency of communication and to strengthen and protect the core BBC Brand, one of the corporation's most valuable assets.

The BBC's logo is one of its most effective promotional devices and it is used extensively and creatively across television and radio channels, online services, microphones, merchandising, cameras, books, CDs and videos around the world.

The BBC uses a variety of on and off air media to support its channels, services and programmes. Television trails are commonly used as appointments to view, providing details of forthcoming programmes and features. Both of the BBC's terrestrial analogue channels, BBC One and BBC Two, have their own individual identities, which enable them to communicate their own specific personalities and style under the core BBC Brand.

Corporate trails have been used historically to communicate the range of diverse and unique services available from the BBC in its role as public service provider, such as its unrivalled news coverage, children's and natural history programming and online services.

Brand values

Since it received the Royal Charter in 1927, the BBC has remained true to its core purpose of being educational, informative and entertaining. Through the explosion of new technology, the BBC has ensured it has delivered its public service remit, as generations of audiences have grown up to be replaced by new audiences with their own specific needs. The BBC has consistently delivered original, inspiring programme content and production values and achieved an unrivalled reputation for quality, impartiality and integrity that has helped make it one of the world's leading media brands.

Things you didn't know

  • 95% of all households watch/listen to the BBC every week.

  • On November 14th 1922, daily transmissions started from 2LO, the first transmitter used by the BBC. The BBC's first news bulletin, read into a telephone handset, first normally, then at slow speed, ended with the billiards scores.

  • David Attenborough's first Natural History programme, 'Zoo Quest', in 1954 was condemned by the controller of programmes as a 'disaster'.

  • Some of the suggested names for what became 'EastEnders' included 'East 8', 'London Pride', 'Square Dance' and 'Round the Square'. The perfect title lay in a phrase used every day whilst casting the show, "only genuine EastEnders need apply".

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd

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