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Can The UK Hold Onto The Broadcast Crown?

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Here in the UK we were first with broadcast technology. What do we need to stay at the forefront? Industry guru Anna Wood explores...

When it comes to broadcast, television and technology, although we are only a small nation, I think we can claim to have invented broadcasting here in the UK – no mean feat for an island of our size, and I wonder, do us Brits have a special aptitude for technology?
Looking back at our history, the Victorian empire saw huge leaps of invention in all areas. Broadcasting probably began in the 19th Century with the experiments of Guglielmo Marconi, a graduate from the University of Bologna who was fascinated by radio waves. I think it is significant that Marconi’s early research was funded by his own family and that he relocated to the UK in search of funding for his inventions, where his genius was first recognised by the British Post Office. A true entrepreneur, Marconi’s company produced the first radio entertainment broadcasts which originated from Great Baddow during the 1920s, before the BBC existed.
Similarly, John Logie Baird, a pioneering Scot who had experimented with electricity as a child, engineered the first transmission of a television image from the Selfridges store in March 1925. Logie Baird was already working on colour transmissions in 1926, and was already able to transmit images at 12.5 frames per second in 1926. Like Marconi, he also produced his own programmes until the birth of the BBC in 1932.
From then on, the BBC with its public service ethos of informing, educating and entertaining has institutionalised broadcasting, and become an inspiration to broadcasters worldwide, investing in new technology, production and camera skills and setting the standard for high quality public broadcasting.
Today, the BBC and ITV continue to produce the some of the finest entertainment in the world, and dramas such as Downton Abbey are among the UK’s most valuable exports.
Television technology remains an area of change with plenty of new developments – High Definition, 3D, smart TVs, Internet TV and digital signage. Each big technological leap creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and specialist manufacturers to design and make the components that will enable the latest waves of broadcast technology and entertainment.
Looking to the future, what do we need for our technology companies to remain at the forefront of this industry? I think we need several things. First, we need plenty of skilled engineers.
What I hear over and over again from my clients is that it is difficult to find employees with the right skills – particularly in advanced RF and microwave design, programming and electronics. Businesses are increasingly recruiting engineers who have trained in other countries, but fortunately, the UK draws many people from other regions to come and settle here.
I believe this situation will become easier in future, as the Government and organisations such as Engineering UK campaign for more young people to study engineering at UK universities. So it should not be long before more home-grown engineering talent will be available here.
However, it is not enough just to have engineers. Engineers need places where they can experiment and develop new concepts, and these places can be harder to find. It may mean that like Marconi, they experiment in their free time or in their own homes, where they are free of corporate scrutiny and shareholder demands. This has been the path for many of our successful internet businesses, although some larger companies foster experimental research projects in the hope of enabling a valuable technical breakthrough.
Finally, it’s important that we can sell what we have created. The new products we develop have to have a definite purpose and a commercial future – although that future may lie in an area that’s outside our experience today.
This means that the UK needs entrepreneurs who have the specialist knowledge and the vision to understand what people will buy before they build it, and who can also bring a product to the market. This is essential, to ensure that our technical developments have a real future. I have noticed that the most successful technology entrepreneurs are often the individuals who have staked their own funds in their venture, and they did so because they were unshakeably confident in the future of their invention.

The article is also available to read in BFV online.


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