Arrival/Departure (2013) by Tom Carr at BBC Big Screen, Woolwich – General Gordon Square, London. Photo by Elisabeth Carr. Tom Carr international exhibition produced in collaboration with Art Plural Gallery, Singapore
The BBC Big Screens are a partnership of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), city councils, some universities and LOCOG, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. There are currently 23 Big Screens across the UK, in Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Derry, Dover, Edinburgh, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London (two locations), Manchester, Middlesbrough, Norwich, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Swansea, and Swindon. They are generally located in areas in city centres with good footfall and event space. The screens run with sound (muted overnight) and present BBC news, weather and sport information, national, international and local, as well as community information and films, a range of digital film work and major televised programmmes, such as Wimbledon coverage, Last Night of the Proms (summer classical music concert series and events) and the Olympics. Big Screens also support national and local events, from live music to relays from other locations and interactive game playing.
History of BBC Big Screens
Back in 2003 the first Big Screen was erected in Manchester’s Exchange Square. It was part of an experiment into Public Space Broadcasting by the BBC, born out of using screens for events such as Proms in the Park, 2002 World Cup and the Manchester Commonwealth Games. From here the experiment grew to include other cities like Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds. The Big Screens enabled cities to be able connect with their community by animating public spaces with live events using the screen and its technology. Up until this point each of the original 9 screens were run locally but with the introduction of 8 new screens and a consensus that all screens within the network should look and operate the same the Screens Operational Centre (SOC) was set-up in Birmingham. From here Imran Hussain and Jo Willis, both Assistant Producers (AP’s), monitor and schedule the screens centrally.
The Big Screens day-to-day content consists of news, sport and weather from the BBC, mixed in with short films sourced nationally and locally. Imran and Jo are always on the lookout for innovative and inspiring content to show on all the screens. As the screens are in public spaces the content needs to be suitable for audiences of all ages. The majority of short films that appear nationally are sourced from film festivals like Bristol’s Encounters Film Festival, the Midlands Flip Animation Festival and Manchester’s Exposures Film Festival. The national content is complemented with international content like the video artwork programming produced by Streaming Museum.
The Big Screens adhere to a dynamic schedule. This enables the screens to broadcast a broader mix of content across the day/week/month. Content is not restricted to a set time each day, allowing the content to reach a wider audience.
Each region has a Screen Manager or Producer, who ensures that each of the screens showcases the work of local producers, making the screens relevant to their location. They also work with the local authorities to stage events that bring the community together.
As part of the scheduling, Imran and Jo are able to allow the Big Screens to opt out of their normal schedules, whether this is to show a BBC programme like Wimbledon or the Electric Proms, or to allow the managers and producers to run an event like showcasing a popular film (Mamma Mia in Plymouth) or a Christmas Lights Switch-On event (Norwich).
Imran and Jo provide support to the managers and producers within the regions aiding them with day-to-day problems, whether they are scheduling queries, problems with editing or minor technical questions. As part of this support, they monitor the Big Screens to ensure they are all in good working order, working closely with the technical team they notify them of any problems to ensure that they are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
University of London
The Birkbeck, University of London, School of History of Art and Screen Media is a long established centre with a high national and international reputation in medieval, Renaissance and modern art history and the history of film and television. Located in the centre of London, in historic Bloomsbury, gives students access to the capital’s unrivalled range of libraries, art galleries, museums and cinemas. Forty-six Gordon Square, the building housing the School, is also the former home of Vanessa and Virginia (later Woolf) Stephens, centre of the Bloomsbury Circle, as well as the home of John Maynard Keynes, celebrated economist.
The School includes an architecturally acclaimed state-of-the-art Centre for Research in Film and Visual Media, designed to be used for teaching, research and conferences, and is equipped with a 70-seat cinema.