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Independent Broadcasting Authority logo 1984

The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was the regulatory body in the United Kingdom for commercial television (ITV and Channel 4 and limited satellite television regulation - cable was the responsibility of the Cable Authority) - and commercial/independent radio broadcasts. The IBA came into being when the Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 gave the Independent Television Authority responsibility for organising the new Independent Local Radio (ILR) stations.

The IBA appointed and regulated a number of regional programme TV contractors and local radio contractors , and built and operated the network of transmitters distributing these programmes through its Engineering Division.

Approach

The IBA's approach to regulation was more robust than its successors, and it assumed the ultimate role of the broadcaster (whereas today, TV licensees are termed "broadcasters in their own right"). The IBA took a very "hands-on" approach and placed the interests of the viewer before anything else. For example, if two ITV licensees wanted to merge, or another wanted to change its broadcast name, this would require approval by the IBA. This direct approach extended to programmes also; the IBA could (and did) place limits on how many soap episodes could be shown per week, if they believed programme quality would be compromised.

The IBA set guidelines on the content of advertising and imposed strict limits on the quantity and timing of advertisements.

The IBA also operated monitoring systems for the quality of programme content and the technical quality of programme play-out.

Other regulation included a limit on the value of prizes that could be given away in television game shows. This resulted in British versions of popular American quiz show The $64,000 Question having a maximum prize initially of 64,000 sixpences (£1,600) in the late 1950s, and in the early 1990s of just £6,400, the format being adjusted so that "The Six Thousand Four Hundred Pound Question" was only asked every other week so as not to break the regulatory £3,200/week maximum.

Regional programming on ITV was a major concern for the IBA, particularly in the 1980 franchise round. The IBA was determined each franchise provided the best possible local service, so the South of England transmission region was split in two, with the successful applicant required to provide separate news services for the South and South East.

ATV's commitment to regional output in the Midlands had been a long-running issue for the IBA; in 1980, they were allowed to keep their franchise, but with several tough conditions; that the company was substantially restructured, their Elstree production base relocated to Nottingham and the company rebranded to reflect its increased commitment to the Midlands. The new name, chosen apparently in a viewer competition, was Central Independent Television.

The Experimental and Development Department, as part of the IBA's Engineering Division, was responsible for much leading edge research into broadcasting technology as well as being responsible for the design and manufacture of specialist equipment that could not be procured from commercial manufacturers. In particular, the IBA's E&D Department developed SABRE (Steerable Adaptable Broadcast Receiving Equipment) that enabled mainland broadcast television channels to be received for re-broadcasting in the Channel Islands. During the early 1980s, the E&D Department manufactured the specialised broadcast receiving and monitoring equipment used to build the national broadcast network for Channel Four. Subsequently, E&D's engineers proposed a system of analogue television encoding known as MAC (Multiplexed Analogue Component) to provide a standard for the forthcoming satellite television broadcasts that was more robust than an extension of the existing PAL system used for terrestrial broadcasts. E&D's engineers also designed and built some of the first digital audio equipment for satellite broadcasting including systems using data packets. E&D's engineers made many important contributions to digital television data-rate reduction whereby the encoding of a standard analogue PAL colour signal requiring some 130 Megabits/second has been reduced to less than 4 Megabits/second as used on current digital television broadcasting.

In the late 1980s the IBA was appointed as regulator and transmitter operator for the first DBS (Direct Broadcasting by Satellite) service for the UK and awarded the franchise to BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting). The rival Sky Television plc was able to launch a lower quality analogue service from Luxembourg regulated satellites with more channels in advance and subsequently forced a merger with BSB.

For many years the IBA put out a short weekly programme under the title Engineering Announcements, transmitted during network downtime and not otherwise advertised. These provided valuable technical information for members of the radio and television trade.

Succession

The IBA was disbanded as part of the Broadcasting Act 1990, being replaced on New Year's Day 1991 by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) (which also absorbed the Cable Authority), and the Radio Authority (RAu), which have since been merged with other regulators such as Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) and Oftel (Office of Telecommunications) to form one regulator, Ofcom. All of the IBA's engineering function, except for a limited number of Quality Control engineers, was transferred to a newly set-up private company, National Transcommunications Limited (NTL), which continued to run the former IBA transmitter masts and is now known as Arqiva. In 2008 the IBA's extensive archive was lodged with the University of Bournemouth.

Notable Independent Broadcasting Authority locations

Notable IBA locations included:

  • Headquarters in 70 Brompton Road, London SW3
  • Engineering Division Headquarters at Crawley Court, near Winchester, Hampshire (novated to NTL)
  • the transmission sites now belonging to Arqiva
  • the BSB satellite uplink at Chilworth, Hampshire
  • Engineering Regional Operations Centres at
    1. Beulah Hill, Croydon
    2. Black Hill, near Shotts, Lanarkshire
    3. St Hilary, near Cardiff
    4. Emley Moor, near Huddersfield
  • Harman Engineering Training Centre, Seaton, Devon
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