BSB merger anniversary reflections

It is but a footnote in the history of British broadcasting. 30 years ago BSB – the IBA-regulated satellite broadcaster on the air for barely 8 months  – merged with Sky to create British Sky Broadcasting.

A merger which looked like a takeover – BSB’s channels were all closed within months, some within days.

BSB with its neat “squarial” dishes and emphasis on British programmes had tried to market itself as a quality operation in the traditions of British broadcasting – Sky, in contrast, was sometimes condemned as a downmarket, Americanised operation which threatened traditional standards.

What is remarkable is just how much the presentation of BSB’s channels owed to the established British channels.

The structure of the junctions was very similar to those of Channel 4’s or the ITV companies which had moved to more modern styles of presentation. There was also more than a hint of BBC presentation: trails, slides, idents, out-of-vision announcers and a clear separation between adverts and editorial content.

The look of the channels was designed by Lambie-Nairn. What’s also remarkable is how closely some of the idents almost seem like prototypes for the new BBC idents which were introduced in 1991.

The idea of the “squarial” in different environments for each channel is not unlike the basic idea behind BBC Two’s 1991 idents.

And Galaxy’s swirling mass of lights has more than a passing resemblance to BBC One’s 1991 globe.

All in all it was a very classy package. But, ultimately, few people saw it or appreciated it.

The odds were stacked against the company and it made little impact on the public. Sales of boxes were unsustainably low. For that reason it’s impossible to say if the channels’ presentation and marketing strategies failed or succeeded.

But the look of BSB reminds you of what might have been had the company enjoyed the satellite monopoly which the IBA had envisaged and been able to grow over the next few years.




Posted by Andrew Nairn

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