Could some Covid-related broadcasting changes become permanent?

When do stealth changes made during an emergency become permanent? There are quite a few examples of changes to schedules, presentation and even graphics which started out as temporary arrangements.

Sometimes the permanent change happened because the idea worked – sometimes the emergency which led to it dragged on and on to the point that it became the default.

Remember when BBC announcers gave lengthy resumes over slides before major dramas? This started during the miners’ strike of 1972 for the benefit of those who missed an episode because of a power cut. Clearly the idea proved useful to viewers who’d missed the instalment for other reasons or just provided a good way to set the scene for the latest episode.

The BBC’s mid-afternoon regional news bulletin was introduced in January 1974 at the height of the Three Day Week, initially at 3.58pm. It isn’t known if the timing was coincidental but the BBC showed little enthusiasm for afternoon television during this period. They simply found ways to fill the time after schools programmes, while ITV had a full schedule.

In 1975 the corporation pulled the plug on its fledgling afternoon service because of a cash crisis but the regional bulletin survived. Had there been pre-planned power cuts in 1974, as was the case in other disputes, the 3.58pm bulletin would have been an ideal place to announce them.

Fast forward to the next decade and by the early 1980s it was not too unusual for some schools programmes to shift over to BBC Two, demonstrating that this was not a problem. This helped clear the way for a full move in 1983.

The end of regular BBC daytime trade test transmissions may also have been a temporary move which became permanent. The screening of Ceefax throughout the day could have been brought about by a Radio Times strike followed by the General Election campaign.

The first Gulf War in 1991 led to more than the quiet revamping of BBC One’s morning flop Daytime UK.

The regional news at 8.55am and national news bulletin at 9am were incorporated into Breakfast News. They had been standalone items – a legacy from the days in 1987 and 1988 when Breakfast Time ended around 8.40am.

Over on ITV, the lunchtime news moved from 1pm to 12.30pm during the Gulf War. The temporary move lasted some 15 years.

So as the current crisis continues, may some of the operational changes end up becoming permanent? So much will depend on how long it is until things get back to normal and the speed at which restrictions are eased.

BBC Two has started to take advantage of Newsnight‘s temporary move to 10.45pm to schedule some longer programmes.  If these work and Newsnight does not suffer, a return to 10.30pm might not be a given.

And, while UTV has stressed the current changes to branding and continuity are temporary, might there come the point when there would be little reason to start rebranding network trails or dropping end credit promotions again?

When life gets back to normal, things may not be exactly as they were before – on TV or in the real world.




Posted by Andrew Nairn

  1. I wouldn’t be bothered if the BBC kept the merged London and South East bulletin at lunchtime. There’s a broader amount of stories from both regions which make it an improvement on the previous bulletins.


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