Another wasteful BBC decision

Yesterday saw two slices of good news for Kingswood Warren, the BBC’s highly-valued research & development facility. Item one saw the site being given a long-overdue reprieve, but the BBC’s decision is going to show up as another expensive waste of cash for the cash-strapped broadcaster. Item two saw Kingswood’s engineers achieve a “world’s first” in that they have successfully demonstrated a working HDTV demodulator using DVB-T2 signals.

For the best part of 25 years Kingswood Warren has been at the technological cutting edge of broadcast research. Some four years ago staff were told that the facility was to be closed, and that staff were to be relocated first to central London and then to a new R&D centre in Manchester in 2011. Indeed, yesterday (September 1) staff were due to go on strike over the closure plans.

In fact the building has already been sold (to property company Octagon, although contracts have yet to be finally signed). Only days ago Andy Bower, the BBC’s man-in-charge at Kingswood Warren, while expressing sadness at the impending move said how there would be benefits from being “just along the corridor” from his other BBC creative and management colleagues.

Now, the BBC’s recently-appointed head of future media and technology, Erik Huggers, has decided to put the sale of Kingswood Warren on hold, recognising that staff have had a tough time. “Erik wants time to take it all in and work out the best way to go forward to really champion the work of the R&D department and represent their interests on the BBC board,” said a BBC spokeswoman.

Keeping Kingswood Warren open is a good decision that will be welcomed as a rare ray of common sense at the frequently wrong-footed BBC. But the downside is that the decision is only “on hold”, meaning staff are back to uncertainties over their future, worries over their homes and anxiety over topics like children’s schooling if a move resurrects itself. The perfect recipe for quiet, creative minds.

What a differerence in Tokyo where Japan’s public broadcaster (NHK) enjoys spectacular R&D facilities in a purpose-built building with unparrelled research facilities. NHK’s technology centre is just a few miles away from similar facilities at Sony, and at Toshiba, and at Canon.

Which takes us to Kingswood Warren’s achievement in successfully handling DVB-T2. The DVB-T2 standard was only finally agreed on June 27 so the August 29 HDTV success is another significant milestone in the delivery of HD over Freeview. This is the first time anywhere in the world that a live end-to-end DVB-T2 chain has been demonstrated. “The modulator and demodulator are available for licensing,” said a very understated BBC statement.