From WSTV to BBC World News: 25 years of international news

As the BBC's international TV news service turns 25, how has the channel developed over the years? We take a look back...

BBC World Service Television was initially available across Europe, and later that year in Asia. The European version of the channel contained a mix of news with entertainment programming from the BBC, while the Asia version was more news orientated from the outset. 

During 1992, the channel became available in Africa.

In 1994, WSTV was controversially removed from Rupert Murdoch's East Asian satellite pay TV platform Star TV after complaints from the Chinese Government, temporarily reducing the reach of the channel in East Asia.

January 1995- October 1997
In January 1995, WSTV was rebranded BBC World. In Europe, this brought about a split. Entertainment programmes were transferred to the newly launched subscription channel BBC Prime. BBC World became a free-to-air channel on satellite, and was soon being taken by cable operators all over Europe, rapidly boosting its reach.

The new BBC World consisted of several blocks of news each day, each lasting between 2 and 3 hours: NewsroomNewsdayNewsdeskNewshour Asia-PacificThe World Today and The World Report. In between, regular World News bulletins sat alongside a selection of lifestyle programmes, stripped across the week in a strand called "Time Out", giving international viewers a chance to see the likes of HolidayFood and DrinkThe Clothes ShowTomorrow's WorldTop Gear and Film 95 with Barry Norman. A further strand of longer programmes were scheduled at various points of the day, with a variety of current affairs programmes including PanoramaThe Money ProgrammeCorrespondent and Question Time and factual programmes including Horizon and Rough Guide to the World.

In 1996, a new teletext service produced by Intelfax launched on the European feed of the channel. And later that year, BBC World obtained a licence to broadcast terrestrially in Berlin, taking over from BFBS/SSVC Television in the German capital. Although, after digital switchover, the BBC pulled the plug on BBC World's terrestrial distribution, due to costs. 1996 was also the year BBC World expanded its reach into Latin America.

At the end of March 1997, a new schedule for the channel was introduced, removing the long factual slots on weekdays, enabling BBC World to extend all weekday bulletins to at least half an hour. New strands were created: World Living replaced Time Out, World Focus was a new half hour slot for current affairs programmes and longer factual programmes were scheduled across the weekend in a new Weekend World strand.

The summer of 1997 saw two key moments for BBC World: the handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China on the 1st July was the focal point of extensive coverage. Then at the end of August, the channel took the lead in providing the initial rolling news coverage following the death of Princess Di, which saw BBC World being simulcast on BBC One.

October 1997- March 2000
At the end of October, BBC World was given an amended look, but staying with the flag theme it had acquired during the dying days of WSTV. All of the longer news blocks on the channel were renamed The World Today.

Out went a number of UK focused programmes: the nightly showing of Newsnight was axed, Breakfast With Frost and On The Record were ditched. Tomorrow's World was also removed from the schedule during this time. In came new programmes from BBC News 24, which launched in November 1997. Dateline London with Charles Wheeler as its presenter took over the former Breakfast With Frost slot.

For a short time around the end of 1997 and early 1998, BBC News 24 and BBC World joined forces for an hour every evening for Europe Direct, a daily look at news, sports and weather from across the continent. USA Direct followed just after midnight (UK time).

From the end of March 1998, BBC World ceased news operations between 0100 and 0600 UK time, handing over to BBC News 24 for hourly news bulletins. Nowadays the tables have turned, with the UK news channel handing over to BBC World News for overnight news.

In October 1998, BBC World moved to its new home, studio N9 of Television Centre, taking over BBC News 24's launch newsroom and set, enabling it to make better use of new newsgathering technologies.

The war in Kosovo resulted in BBC World making schedule changes to accommodate extended bulletins through 1998 and 1999. Europe Direct was as a result shunted later in the evening and subsequently turned into a weekly magazine programme.

During this time, the BBC's online presence began to grow significantly, thanks to the launch of BBC News Online in late 1997, although there was initially relatively little publicity for the online service until the next chapter in the channel's history:

April 2000 - December 2003 
In April, BBC World adopted the new red and cream BBC corporate look, which had already been rolled out on domestic news services. The new music composed by David Lowe proved a hit with viewers, and the BBC produced a CD called BBC World - The Music, with extended tracks based on the sound of the channel.

In came new programmes, including Click Online - later Click, providing a regular slot for technology news. The news blocks, in force since 1995 were removed, with the channel airing half an hour of news every hour during the week, with additional business and sports bulletins launching in the back half hour, plus a new Asia Today bulletin at 1530 GMT, timed to air during the evening across Asia.

In 2001, BBC World  moved back towards longer blocks of news and relaunched The World Today as a morning programme for Europe; the first hour being simulcast on BBC One and BBC News 24.

With the launch of BBC Four in the UK in 2002, a new half hour simulcast was created with new evening programme The World.

The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent second Gulf War dominated news programming during this period. The BBC News website became prominently advertised during this time, becoming a integral part of the whole BBC package to international viewers.

December 2003-April 2008
In December 2003, BBC World got a revamped new look, which saw the channel get a ticker and a big box in the bottom left of the screen containing the logo. During this time, BBC World became available in more than a million hotel rooms globally.

Following the Asian Tsunami of 26th December 2004, which saw viewers submitting pictures of the event in record numbers to the BBC, the BBC launched its User Generated Content Hub in 2005 to address the increasing amount of footage being submitted by members of the public.

In 2007, BBC World News America launched on BBC World and on PBS, delivering in-depth reports and analysis on major international news stories across the US. Minor tweaks to BBC World presentation took place that year, ahead of a big change the following year:

April 2008-January 2013
BBC World was rebranded BBC World News and moved to BBC News 24's old studios in Television Centre, the second time in its history that it had taken over BBC News 24's previous home.

The channel's schedule was once again focused to providing longer themed blocks of news - this was the era when the BBC launched Newsday as a morning programme for Asia-Pacific audiences as well as GMTImpact (Asia) and the short-lived news programme The Hub.
Reflecting changes in the way viewers access news, the channel launched an app on tablets and smartphones in 16 European countries in 2009, extending to further countries in 2010. BBC World News finally went widescreen in January 2009, although its programmes had been produced in that format for over a decade.

In 2012, the BBC’s commercially funded and BBC World News services were merged under BBC Global News Ltd.

In June 2012, the BBC began to turn its attention to Africa, with the introduction of a new primetime news show for the continent: Focus on Africa. The late Komla Dumor was one of the main launch presenters of the newscast.

January 2013-present
BBC World News moved to "The World's Newsroom", the heart of the newly redeveloped Broadcasting House in central London. The move saw staff from the channel working alongside colleagues from World Service Radio and BBC domestic news, enabling the services to pool resources and knowledge.

During 2013, the channel became available in HD, initially in parts of Asia. On the 1st April 2015, BBC World News HD launched in Europe.

In 2014, interactive show Outside Source was launched on the channel, designed to bring together news from traditional and new social media-based news outlets via an interactive touch screen.

In 2015, BBC World News content became more widely distributed in the UK, with cutbacks at the BBC News Channel resulting in an evening simulcast at 9pm and a longer overnight simulcast, starting at midnight.

Of course, the channel wouldn't have been the same without the many on-screen faces of the channel, and the hundreds more over the years who have worked behind the scenes.

Here are just some of the many personalities who have brought viewers the latest news, business and sport from the BBC on the channel over the years:

Aaron Heslehurst
Adam Parsons
Adnan Nawaz
Adrian Finighan
Alistair Yates
Anita McNaught
Babita Sharma
Barbara Meredith
Ben Bland
Ben Thompson
Brian Hanrahan
Celina Hinchcliffe
Chris Rogers
Daniela Ritorto
David Brenner
David Eades
David Jessel
Dharshini David
Donald MacCormick
George Alagiah
James Dagwell
Jamie Robertson
Jonathan Charles
Juliet Dunlop
Karen Bowerman
Karin Giannone
Kasia Madera
Katty Kay
Keshini Navaratnam
Komla Dumor
Laura Trevelyan
Lebo Diseko
Lindsay Brancher
Liz Pike
Lucy Hockings
Mark Longhurst
Matt Frei
Mike Bushell
Mike Embley
Mishal Husain
Nici Marx
Nik Gowing
Nisha Pillai
Owen Thomas
Paddy O'Connell
Peter Coe
Peter Dobbie
Peter Okwoche
Philip Hayton
Reshmin Chowdhury
Richard Quest
Rico Hizon
Rob Bonnett
Ros Atkins
Sally Bundock
Sarah Stirk
Sharanjit Leyl
Sophie Ikenye
Stephen Cole
Stephen Sackur
Sue Thearle
Tanya Beckett
Tim Sebastian
Tim Willcox
Tony Campion
Yalda Hakim

Image credits: BBC

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  1. Great piece. Really enjoyed reading about the history of our BBC


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