As nightmares go for BBC Network Presentation they do not get much worse than this.
A tense Wimbledon match is coming towards its conclusion shortly before six o’clock. A British player may be set to reach the semi-finals. Meanwhile a major news story at Westminster is breaking.
This year, Wimbledon has generally stayed on BBC One up until 6pm then coverage resumed on the nation’s main public service channel from 7pm to 8.30pm.
Meanwhile for more than 20 years, the custom and practice has been to show any matches in the latter stages of the tournament on BBC One if they involve British players.
A number of possible scenarios for tonight would have been discussed and worked out by playout editors and News – mindful of the fact the English regions cannot opt on BBC Two.
The initial plan at 6pm was that BBC One would stay at Wimbledon until the match concluded – the News and regional programmes would follow.
Then at 6.15pm, Sue Barker unexpectedly revealed that the tennis was moving to BBC Two.
Those unaware of the unfolding developments at Westminster may have simply assumed that the news couldn’t realistically be delayed any further.
Tennis fans – many of whom are no doubt also regular viewers of the main BBC News programmes – may well have reached for their remotes, engrossed in a compelling match.
But the drama unfolding at Westminster was far more important – and gripping – than anything at Court Number One. Some will be sorry they missed it.
So what do tonight’s scheduling decisions tell us? It reminds us that a public service broadcaster needs a powerful, editorially confident playout team.
Two contrasting live events – both of great interest and one of potentially huge importance – were unfolding. The wrong decision could have had terrible consequences for the BBC.
Imagine if the nation’s premier broadcaster had delayed the news until 7.15pm – only for viewers to then discover what viewers to ITV and Channel 4 were already familiar with. There could have been real anger and real questions.
The extended – albeit delayed – bulletin meant the regional news was further delayed and the rest of the night on BBC One was rearranged.
Ironically this was the night BBC One had hoped to run a normal schedule with Wimbledon completely switching to BBC Two at 6pm.
This is a reminder of why live broadcasting matters and why BBC Presentation cannot be treated like the playout of a minor digital channel.
PICTURED: BBC News at Six with George Alagiah. COPYRIGHT: BBC.
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