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20 years of BBC News... whenever you want it

The BBC's news channel is 20 years old. First launched as BBC News 24 in the days when hardly anyone had an internet connection, it promised viewers access to BBC News whenever they wanted it. 

The 24 hour channel launched on cable services at 5:30pm on 9th November 1997, with nationwide coverage on BBC One overnights, before becoming available on digital satellite and terrestrial platforms the following year. News 24 became the BBC News Channel in April 2008.

This week's celebrations come as news colleagues on rival channel Sky News fear for their future as Sky refused to confirm the channel would continue if a deal with 21st Century Fox can't be reached. 20 years ago, Sky failed in its prolonged legal action to have BBC News 24 shut down.

BBC News 24 was originally devised as a TV version of the more accessible Radio 5 Live, which meant the channel launched with jacketless presenters and a more informal tone than other BBC News outlets. At the same time, the BBC launched its brand new BBC News website for the few dialling-up on the relatively new world wide web.

The channel adopted and adapted the flag theme from sister channel BBC World, which itself had received a presentational update at the end of October 1997 featuring a spiky sun flag, which also appeared at various points on BBC News 24.

But it wasn't long before the channel's look and feel began to be changed. Europe Direct, the channel's weeknightly hour-long show was soon shortened and moved and ultimately revamped into a half hour weekly magazine before being axed. Sister show USA Direct was equally relatively short lived in its launch format. However, the channel's attempt at a late night entertainment news programme was a success: Zero 30, presented by the late Christopher Price ultimately turned into Liquid News, becoming a cornerstone of BBC Three's early schedule. News 24 also launched Dateline London, with the late Charles Wheeler getting the views of foreign correspondents on UK news. BBC News 24 also introduced BBC World's interview programme HARDtalk to UK viewers for the first time.

Ironically, it was a strike at the BBC on 4th June 1998 gave News 24 its first major exposure to viewers in the UK and around the world: BBC News 24-produced bulletins replaced normal news output on BBC One and BBC World.

"This is BBC News, broadcasting to Britain and the World" - BBC News 24/BBC World simulcasts started at the end of March 1998. Jane Hill was one of the initial regular presenters overnights.

Overall, it was felt by BBC management that the channel was too informal and the set was even described by an insider as looking like a "car crash in a shower". The commencement of an overnight simulcast with BBC World at the end of March 1998 started to see News 24 presentation begin to be toned down. In October 1998, less than a year after it launched, it moved to a new home in the BBC News centre:

A year later and on the 25th October 1999, the flags had gone from News 24, with the channel going into the new millennium with the BBC's new red and ivory corporate look for news programmes - and the arrival of the beeps and a countdown to the top of the hour:

Sister channel BBC World lost its flags in April 2000, when it joined the new corporate look - the last time revamps to the UK and international news services were staggered over such a long time.

All change at Breakfast
Following the 2000 Sydney Olympics, BBC News 24's standalone breakfast programme was axed in favour of the new BBC Breakfast programme to be shown on News 24 and BBC One. At that time, Breakfast was expanded to cover the weekends from News 24's studios. Existing Saturday morning news programme Weekend 24, shown at 8am on News 24 and BBC Two, was eventually merged with Breakfast giving viewers the full 7-day Breakfast service viewers know today.

The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on the 11th September 2001 shook the world. With the events of that day leading to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the dropping of regular programmes on BBC One for a simulcast with BBC News 24 on 9/11 was just the first of what would become a routine handover during breaking news events.

BBC News 24's increased reach came at a cost to the corporation's other daily updates on BBC One and BBC Two, as the previously hourly news updates across the two channels were gradually phased out one by one.

In 2003, following new criticism of its output in a high-profile report by ex-FT editor Richard Lambert, BBC News 24 undertook a radical revamp of its output, and saw the beginning of a period of enormous in your face grapics, including the introduction of a large tower with the channel logo and time in the bottom right. New red and black news titles featuring the main headline were introduced. It was during this era that a ticker became a permanent fixture on the channel.

During 2006, the channel began to simulcast BBC One news bulletins in order to stop competing for resources and duplicating output. By doing so, News 24 followed the example of the by now defunct ITV News Channel. The channel experimented with various new formats, ranging from citizen news show Your News to STORYfix - a fast paced look at the news with Emily Maitlis, also shown on the former BBCi News Multiscreen service.

It was in 2006 that BBC News 24 received its first RTS News Channel of the Year awards, with the judges saying that this was the year that the channel had "really come into its own."


A mini-revamp followed in 2007, before major changes to BBC News were announced for April 2008. Alongside a name change, dropping the "24", the News channel began to share a studio with BBC One news bulletins. A relatively stagnant, but stable period followed for the channel, as the BBC looked forward to a future relocation to New Broadcasting House. In March 2012, sports bulletins moved to BBC Sport's new home in Salford.

A new home

In March 2013, the channel started broadcasting from its current home overlooking the BBC Newsroom at New Broadcasting House. The channel received a spruce up. Freed from its box studio at TV Centre, it could experiment with its new catwalk of news, weather balcony and lighting configurations. Behind the presenters, newsgathering colleagues from BBC domestic and international news were brought together for the first time, with BBC radio news and World Service language staff all in the same building, enabling BBC News outlets to quickly join forces and provide insight to viewers, with increased visibility of World Service journalists providing background information on world events. Fully HD-enabled in its new home, BBC News HD launched on 10th December 2013.


But it nearly ended there. By 2016, and after several years of a licence fee freeze, BBC Three TV had been axed and repeated reports leaked to newspapers indicated the BBC was seriously considering the future of its UK news channel, with a wholesale merger with BBC World News on the table. Internal reports eventually confirmed that the BBC wouldn't save as much as it might have hoped by closing the channel, as much of the newsgathering still had to be done, and much of the material generated for the News Channel went on to be recycled across other BBC outlets.

But cost cutting had to come, and in 2015, the News Channel found itself simulcasting with other BBC channels for increasing periods of time. Traditional news bulletins were to cease at 11:15pm, making way for repeats of Newsnight and an extended simulcast with the commercially funded BBC World News. Morning news bulletins were replaced by Business Live (simulcast with BBC World News) and Victoria Derbyshire  (simulcast with BBC Two) in 2015.

Studio B at New Broadcasting House set up for Victoria Derbyshire. The studio is also used for Newsnight and Andrew Marr.

The addition of Victoria Derbyshire's show was the pinnacle of major change, with regular rolling news replaced by two hours of human interest stories, investigations and interviews and a very different format to what viewers had originally been accustomed to. With the addition of the social media inspired BBC World News show Outside Source at 9pm, the channel went back to its roots with an hour long prime time simulcast with its international counterpart. The move was criticised by some viewers, who mourned the loss of UK-specific news coverage, a subject that had been rearing its head for some time:

When Nelson Mandela died in 2013, there was criticism about the way a major breaking UK news story surrounding flooding in the east of the country was dropped for wall-to-wall coverage from Africa across BBC One, BBC Two and the BBC News Channel. There were similar complaints after small earthquakes and bad weather - major UK news stories, but insignificant on an international scale - were overlooked during overnight simulcasts with BBC World News.

From rolling news to "Appointment to View" programmes, such as Beyond 100 Days

In recent years, with the internet and social media taking an increasingly important role in gaining access to news, the News Channel has moved away from straight rolling news to distinct segments throughout the day, the most recent change being the revamp of the channel's afternoon news service with the launch of Afternoon Live presented by Simon McCoy. Tackling the rise of fake news and outright lies, a new regular feature called Reality Check was launched, tasked to provide viewers and internet users with information and stats behind the claims made by politicians and business leaders. Beyond 100 Days provides BBC World News and News Channel viewers with the latest twists and turns in the Trump presidency, Brexit negotiations and other major news affecting a rapidly changing world.

The News Channel launched as News 24 to provide viewers with the latest BBC News, whenever they wanted it. During the last 20 years it has for many become the default channel to switch to when major news stories break. But with many of us now checking Twitter, the BBC News app or indeed any other website or webstream for developing news, the mission to remain relevant in a new era for news consumption has only just begun...

The flags are out in studio C to mark 20 years of BBC News 24/BBC News Channel. Pictured: Huw Edwards speaking to BBC Director General Tony Hall.

  • Written by Mike Manning for a516digital.com. Use the hashtag #bbcnewschannel20 on social media to share your comments on 20 years of the BBC News Channel.