Independent Broadcasting Authority

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Independent Broadcasting Authority
Independent Broadcasting Authority logo 1984.jpg
Screencap of Independent Broadcasting Authority logo 1982, this variant shown 1984
Successor Independent Television Commission

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 television was the responsibility of the Cable Authority) – and commercial and independent radio broadcasts. [1] 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 Independent Television Commission formally replaced the IBA on 1 January 1991 in regulatory terms; however, the authority itself was not officially dissolved until 2003. [2]


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. It established and part-funded a National Broadcasting School to train on-air and engineering staff.


The IBA's approach to regulation was more robust than that of 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 also extended to programmes; the IBA could (and did) place limits on how many soap episodes could be shown per week,[ citation needed ] if they believed programme quality would be compromised.

As well as setting guidelines on advertising content (some guidelines only, the remainder being the responsibility of the ASA), quantity and timings, the IBA also operated monitoring systems for the quality of programme content and the technical quality of programme play-out.

On 19 January 1972, the British government announced the lifting of all restrictions and limits on the number of broadcasting hours per day that both the BBC and ITV could air. Until 1972, both the BBC and ITV were limited to how many normal programming hours they could air during the course of each day - by 1971 it was limited to 8 hours per day, with exemptions for schools, adult educational, religious programming, state occasions and outdoor sporting coverage.

For ITV this meant they could start a proper daytime television schedule, allowing the smaller ITV companies to produce and sell programming to the network. The IBA ensured that along with the new daytime schedules which launched on Monday 16 October 1972 that their public service remit programming would continue after the restrictions were lifted. Schools programming were now placed in a new 2.5 hour slot each weekday from 9.30am along with the continued production of religious programming and adult education. [3]

There were also limits on the value of prizes that could be given away – this dated from the broadcast of the UK version of Twenty-One in 1958 in which a contestant won enough money to buy both a car and a house. [4] In 1960, two years after the scandal in America, the Independent Television Authority (predecessor of the IBA) imposed a £1,000 cap on the value of prizes; this increased over the years to £6,000 in 1981, and was abolished in 1993. British versions of popular American quiz shows had to be adjusted – 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 Six Thousand Four Hundred Pound Question" was only asked every other week, so as not to break the regulatory £3,200/week maximum.

For several years until July 1990, the IBA put out a short weekly programme under the title Engineering Announcements , transmitted outside normal programme hours, and not otherwise advertised. These provided valuable technical information for members of the radio and television trade.

1980 franchise round

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, while in the Midlands 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.

Engineering advances

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 designed and 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.

Satellite 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). In advance of this, the rival Sky Television plc was able to launch an analogue service and intended to overshadow BSB by leasing transponders from Société Européenne des Satellites' RCA Astro-built satellite, Astra 1A. After around a year, the company merged with BSB.


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 the 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. These assets are now within the portfolio operated by Arqiva. In 2008 the IBA's extensive archive was lodged with the University of Bournemouth. [5]

The IBA's membership of the European Broadcasting Union was passed to United Kingdom Independent Broadcasting (UKIB).

Such was the sense of purpose and camaraderie amongst former employees of the IBA that they still meet up near Winchester for an annual reunion in late January, typically boasting an attendance of over fifty.[ citation needed ]

Technical publications and legacy

The engineering staff of the IBA contributed many papers to international standards groups and conferences over many years. The IBA also operated an Engineering Information service in support of the receiver industry and the general public offering information and advice about the transmitter networks and reception issues. Its lasting legacy is a set of IBA Technical Reviews published over a period of 16 years from 1972 to 1988. The complete set of these reviews, as well as some other documents and records, is available for free download. [6]

The reviews were primarily written by the technical staff of the IBA but some articles were written by others from the Independent Television companies and by external specialists. The first volume was published in September 1972 when the Engineering Division was located in Brompton Road, London prior to its move to Crawley Court near Winchester in 1973. Other members of the Division manned the transmitting stations and maintenance bases spread across the UK. The series ended with the 24th volume published in November 1988. One reason for the termination of the publications was the abolition of the IBA in 1990 and the subsequent privatisation of the Engineering activities as National Transcommunications Limited [NTL]; the government white paper proposing this was published in the autumn of 1988.

These reviews are valuable in recording the activities of the various departments of the division during a period of considerable change in broadcasting. IBA staff members were active not only in designing, building and operating transmitter networks they also made significant contributions to new digital broadcasting standards and their implementation. The laboratories of the IBA were in the forefront of the development of digital television technology, as can be seen in some of the reviews but, after the abolition of the IBA, NTL continued to contribute significantly to the development and implementation of the successor technology that underlies modern Freeview transmissions.

Copyright in these documents originally vested in the IBA. On its abolition, its assets were distributed between the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and NTL, each of which has subsequently been absorbed by other bodies. The ITC was absorbed by OfCom and the original NTL has evolved into an independent company, Arqiva. The copyright is now vested in OfCom.

VolumeTitlePublication Date
1Measurement and ControlSeptember 1972
2Technical Reference BookEdition 1: September 1972. Edition 2: July 1974. Edition 3: May 1977
3Digital TelevisionJune 1973
4Television Transmitting StationsSeptember 1974
5Independent Local RadioSeptember 1974
6Transmitter Operation and MaintenanceApril 1976
7Service Planning and PropagationJuly 1976
8Digital Video Processing - DICESeptember 1976
9Digital Television DevelopmentsSeptember 1976
10A Broadcasting Engineer's Vade MecumMay 1977 (Reprinted March 1979)
11Satellites for BroadcastingJuly 1978
12Techniques for Digital TelevisionJanuary 1979
13Standards for Television and Local Radio StationsSeptember 1980
14Latest Developments in Sound BroadcastingJune 1981
15Microelectronics in Broadcast EngineeringOctober 1981
16Digital Coding StandardsMarch 1982
17Developments in Radio Frequency TechniquesMarch 1982
18Standards for Satellite BroadcastingMarch 1982
19Technical Training in Independent BroadcastingJune 1982
20Developments in TeletextMay 1983
21Compatible Higher Definition TelevisionNovember 1983
22Light and Colour PrinciplesNovember 1984
23Developments in Aerials for BroadcastingMarch 1986
24The D-Mac/Packet System for Satellite and CableNovember 1988

Notable Independent Broadcasting Authority locations

Former IBA headquarters in London, now occupied by Ofcom. ITC Headquarters.png
Former IBA headquarters in London, now occupied by Ofcom.

Notable IBA locations included:

Notable ex-IBA employees

Notable ex-IBA employees include: John Whitney (Director General 1982-89), Gareth Mitchell, Julian Prictoe, Nic Robertson


  Denotes Acting Chairman
Term of officeHonour(s)Prime MinisterMonarch
No image.svg The Baron Aylestone
11 July 197231 March 1975 Edward Heath Queen Elizabeth II
Harold Wilson
No image.svg Bridget Plowden
1 April 197531 December 1980
James Callaghan
Margaret Thatcher
No image.svg The Baron Thomson of Monifieth
1 January 198131 December 1988
No image.svg George Russell
1 January 198931 December 1990


IBA organisational evolution

Preceded by
Independent Television Authority
Maintenance of ITV, ILR and Channel 4 transmitters
12 July 1972 – 31 December 1990
Succeeded by
Regulation of ITV
12 July 1972 – 31 December 1990
Succeeded by
Independent Television Commission
New creation Regulation of Channel 4
2 November 1982 – 31 December 1990
Regulation of satellite television
1986 – 31 December 1990
Regulation of Independent Local Radio
12 July 1972 – 31 December 1990
Succeeded by
Radio Authority

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  1. Encyclopædia Britannica - Independent Broadcasting
  2. "The Dissolution of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Order 2003". 2 October 2003. Retrieved 11 August 2014. The Independent Broadcasting Authority are hereby dissolved with effect from 2nd October 2003
  4. "Evolution". Transdiffusion. 3 September 2005. a contestant on “Twenty One” ... [won] £5,580 in 1958 – enough at the time to buy a house and a car.
  5. "ITA/IBA/Cable Authority archive" . Retrieved 31 August 2014. The [ITA/IBA/Cable] archive remained in the custody of OFCOM until transfer to Bournemouth University in 2008
  6. "NTL Pension Association" . Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  7. Google Books