As of 9am BST on Monday morning, the BBC News Channel in the UK was formally merged with its international sister channel, BBC World News.
The result is a single TV news channel with an international focus but with an ability to “opt out” of the main international version of the channel, to allow the UK audience to receive dedicated reporting and analysis of particularly significant domestic stories.
Viewers in the UK also get a simulcast of BBC Breakfast, the main BBC One news programmes (weekdays) and BBC Two’s Newsnight. And later this month, Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 Live programme will also appear on the UK version of the TV news channel.
Whilst the simulcasting is reducing the programme options available in the UK, there is the counter argument that it is potentially bringing existing programming to an additional audience.
Some would say the BBC is cynically using the BBC One/Two/Radio 5 simulcasting as a means of increasing the amount of UK-specific content shown on the news channel, in an attempt to placate Ofcom.
It’s very early days but how is the new channel shaping up so far?
Whilst there are definitely rough edges, it does not feel anywhere close to being as unappealing for a UK audience as many predicted. And let’s face it, we’ve had simulcast programming on BBC News Channel/BBC World News for quite a while now – it all feels quite familiar at this stage.
Ultimately, even an international channel from BBC News is going to have a UK slant.
That said, for some time now, it has felt like international viewers are being subjected to more UK-specific content as a result of the simulcasting across the two news channels.
But how might we get a better balance for the two audiences (UK v International) whilst continuing to live within the current budget constraints?
BBC News believes a bigger portion of its resourcing should now be invested in digital production – primarily the website operation and associated social media channels.
UK audiences still have a rich pool of domestic coverage online and via BBC One news programming. And these sources are, undeniably, where the vast majority of the BBC audience in the UK get their news.
But could some of that online content be presented on the UK version of the TV news channel, for the portion of the audience that prefer the linear TV route?
The random individual stories presented to UK viewers during some of the international ad breaks – branded Across the UK – is not what we had in mind. Although the content does appear to be sourced from the website.
There are other fixed spots in the schedule where there’s an opportunity to present UK-specific content. But this is difficult for the casual viewer to follow. None of this is properly signposted and it all feels rather muddled and fragmented.
Could UK website content be put through a graphics engine and presented to UK viewers in a more structured, consistent and meaningful way?
For example, a split screen arrangement, with the international content playing out uninterrupted, alongside a text-based UK service. Lower-third real estate could definitely be put to much better use too.
The UK opt-out that we saw on Monday ran from 2.20pm until shortly before 5pm and concentrated on a single story – the sentencing of Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s killer.
Whilst UK viewers would want to see important domestic stories reported properly, there’s a happy medium to be had here – and over two-and-a-half hours of almost continuous coverage of a single story, with a lot of repetition, doesn’t feel like it’s hitting the mark.
On Monday afternoon, UK viewers didn’t get an international news service nor did they get proper coverage of UK domestic stories.
If the UK stream is going to break away from the international channel for lengthy periods, perhaps have an option to continue watching the international version of the channel? Red button/IPTV options?
Televising the BBC Radio London interview (in the UK) with the Met Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, this morning worked well. An interview with an important public figure about a matter of significant public interest, with listener/viewer interaction.
But, the lead-up to the interview, the interview itself and the analysis that followed ran from 10.44am until 12.15pm – and no other stories were covered during that time. Providing text-based coverage of other stories and/or an ability for viewers to switch back to the international stream would be worth considering.
Overall, not brilliant but not awful. With more thought and structure, there’s a workable solution in there somewhere.
Clean Feed understands there was a plan to completely change the BBC News branding. Lambie-Nairn’s iconic globe device has been in use since April 2008 and some elements of the branding stretch as far back as 1999.
Cost and timeframes caused the branding replacement plans to be put on hold.
There was though a desire to get the high-profile News division properly on board with the BBC Chameleon branding (the branding templates/elements associated with the rollout of the new BBC masterbrand logo).
In 2022, the new BBC blocks were introduced to News branding (e.g., title sequences) in a form referred to internally as “Chameleon Lite”. The Gill Sans BBC blocks were simply replaced with the new “Reithed” BBC logo.
Full implementation of the Chameleon branding was deferred because a more comprehensive update of News branding was planned.
But with those plans for a full refresh of News branding later put on ice, an alternative, short-term solution would be required. There was still a desire to implement proper Chameleon branding.
In recent weeks, the BBC began suggesting that 3rd April was merely the start of a journey and should not be regarded as a “big bang” change of approach for the rolling news service.
Somewhat surprising given they’ve been planning these changes since at least last summer. But then, the BBC has never been known for moving at great pace.
However, the recent comments about a “soft launch” gave some hope that there’d be no rushed decisions about on-screen branding.
Unfortunately, they chose to press ahead with an ill-considered Chameleon update.
The familiar BBC News title sequence (on the news channel and BBC One) has been updated with the Chameleon branding (BBC blocks at the top, ‘NEWS’ branding at the bottom). The globe device has been shunted to the right slightly, to avoid direct contact with the BBC blocks.
The result: horrible.
And many news programmes continue to use the version of the titles featuring the 2022 patch logo. There’s also a mishmash of branding on trails.
And on stings, the ‘NEWS’ logo at the bottom of the screen more often than not has the lower-third graphic overlaid.
However, Clean Feed understands that a recreation of the Lambie-Nairn graphics is coming soon. So expect the title sequences to better accommodate the Chameleon branding.
But will the updated globe device be a worthy rival to the wizardry of the Lambie-Nairn agency? We shall see.
Miscellaneous technical items
- UPDATED TITLES: potentially incorrect settings used when rendering. Text looks blurred in some cases.
- FLIPPER: since Monday, the “flipper” within the lower-third has been unused – it just displays the BBC News website URL. Waste of valuable screen real estate.
- NEW NEWSROOM PRESENTATION AREAS: a couple of spots within the newsroom have been reconfigured. Reporters/correspondents now speak to us from there, aided by visual journalism on large screens in some cases. The technical quality of video and sound was found wanting – very noticeable sound glitches on Monday.
- NEWSNIGHT LOWER-THIRDS: clash slightly with the news channel’s lower-third.
- SCRAPPY JOINS: UK opt-outs exiting/joining international feed at random points. Joining/exiting Newsnight is also rather untidy.
Excerpts from day one of the merged news channel
PICTURED: BBC News at Ten opening titles. COPYRIGHT: BBC.