BBC News digital director Naja Nielsen said of the changes: “First, people should not expect any kind of ‘big bang’ at the beginning of April – we’re bringing in the changes gradually, in a phased roll-out, so things will continue to alter over the coming months. We want to keep the best of what we do at the moment, while introducing better ways of reporting what matters.”
The single replacement for the UK-focused BBC News channel and BBC World News will show the same output except when a breaking UK news story happens during the day, when there is the ability to move to a separate feed for UK viewers.
There will always be a dedicated UK team on standby, with a live and breaking team part of the new structure for the channel and the overall BBC newsroom set up in the same way it was before.
On Monday at around 2.15pm the package being broadcast was interrupted with a breaking alert for the start of coverage of the sentencing of Thomas Cashman, the killer of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool.
As BBC News digital director Naja Nielsen explained: “The channel will be a single operation with two different feeds, just as now, so viewers in the UK and internationally will sometimes see the same content, sometimes different. We will always respond to breaking and developing news in the UK on the UK TV feed.”
Interim executive news editor of BBC News channels Paul Royall told Newswatch: “The end result of all this is more choice and more flexibility as opposed to a reduction.”
Royall said UK audiences will also get seven-and-a-half hours per day of “premium, UK-facing programming and content built in every weekday before you get to the combined feed”.
This will include BBC Breakfast and a video version of Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 Live phone-in programme between 6am and 11am, plus the 1pm, 6pm and 10pm news bulletins, Newsnight, and some other programmes such as Newswatch and Sportsday.
Some of the changes have already taken effect, while others – such as Campbell’s appearance on the channel – will come over the next few months. Royall said they will be “gradually bringing in the changes during April and early May”.
Some of the programmes that were taken off the BBC News channel before the merger took effect included the nightly newspaper review The Papers, the film review, and Dateline London which began bringing political and foreign correspondent experts’ analysis and views 25 years ago.
Meanwhile some BBC World News programmes ended this week in time for the merger: for example, Ros Atkins’ Outside Source which has spent nine years “trying to find new ways to explain the news” – although Atkins and “many of the OS team” will contribute to the new channel including by making explainers.
The channel’s output will come from London during the UK daytime and then Singapore and Washington DC overnight.
It will air advertising outside the UK: domestic viewers will see news from the UK nations and regions “a couple of times an hour” during those ad breaks, according to Royall who said that “will help us get to lots of stories from around the UK that might not necessarily find their way into a combined rundown…”
UK viewers can also see “single-story news streams” on the live page online and on iPlayer, Royall said.
Why have the BBC TV news channels merged?
The BBC first announced plans to merge the BBC News and BBC World News channels in May last year as part of its aim to save £500m over the next few years. It is one of several major reforms of its news division, also including the local radio network in England, due to a two-year licence fee freeze in January 2022 that meant the broadcaster has to absorb inflation.
The BBC later revealed the merger would likely lead to 70 job cuts from the BBC News operation in the UK, with 20 roles created on and off screen in Washington DC.
Nielsen said: “Our aim is to create the best live and breaking news on both TV and on digital platforms, where more and more audiences are getting their news. We need to modernise the way we deliver the news – while addressing the financial challenges we face.”
She added: “One of our key ambitions is to demonstrate to audiences why they can trust BBC News, by showing more transparently how and why we forensically check and verify facts, double and triple source information, and track down first-hand eye witnesses.
“And to this end, there will be more updates and live reporting from journalists across the UK and around the world, using modern mobile equipment to give audiences the latest information about what’s happening, where it’s happening – as well as information from reporters in the BBC newsroom.
“We will be putting the spotlight on our journalism, from our chief presenters to the newest reporters.”
Who are the BBC News channel presenters?
The BBC appointed Matthew Amroliwala, Christian Fraser, Yalda Hakim, Lucy Hockings, and Maryam Moshiri as five chief presenters – or “the faces of our channel” according to BBC News chief executive Deborah Turness – in February. Sumi Somaskanda was later named chief presenter based in Washington DC, with a further US chief presenter still to be named.
Jane Hill, Martine Croxall, Ben Brown, Annita McVeigh, Geeta Guru-Murthy and Shaun Ley are among the presenters who missed out in the process, although some have been appointed to other roles within BBC News. Hill is moving across to present the 1pm, 6pm and 10pm news bulletins on BBC One, while Ley is moving into radio.
Joanna Gosling, David Eades and Tim Willcox all took voluntary redundancy, it has been reported.
Ben Thompson was the presenter to kick off the new channel’s merged output at 9am following the BBC Breakfast feed in the UK. He tweeted: “There are a few changes you may notice over the coming weeks and some new ways of explaining and reporting stories. Hope you can join us.”
What do people think about the new channel?
On Monday there were a few minor technical glitches, some seemingly linked to the opt-out ad breaks seen by the rest of the world and others on the departure from or return to worldwide content from the UK feed.
Royall said that to start with “there may be the odd imperfection along the way and we’ll learn from that and take lessons from that”.
Newswatch raised concerns from viewers – shared by others such as the National Union of Journalists – that UK viewers will get a worse deal and a lower quality of domestic coverage from the merged channel.
But Royall said: “It’s really exciting and I’m actually really confident that we can deliver for UK licence fee payers. We’re acutely aware of that, we’re talking about that and thinking about that the whole time…”
Former BBC News presenter Simon McCoy, who left the corporation to join GB News where he broadcast for about six months, tweeted about the sharing of content between channels: “BBC News Channel, BBC2, and BBC Parliament all showing Newsnight. 3 channels showing the same thing. Why?” He added that to save money: “Cutting the number of channels may be a start.. boost regional output and stop this nonsense.”
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