What do we want to know?
Broadcasting has been crucial to the development and promotion of the arts in the UK offering new and diverse audiences, providing a further medium for artistic engagement and expression, and becoming a central agent in facilitating commercial success. In return, this programming captures the diversity of creativity and human experience through a variety of forms including documentary, live-broadcasts, drama and talk shows. However, arts programming faces an uncertain future due to increased competition in the television market and declining resources for production.

Arts programming still forms a considerable part of the output for all the major broadcasters in the UK. Returning programmes like The Culture Show (BBC2, 2004 – ), Front Row (BBC Radio 4, 1998 – ) and Grayson Perry: Who are you (Channel 4, 2014 – ).

While ratings may fluctuate, the genre offers huge symbolic value to terrestrial broadcasters particularly when needing to demonstrate a tangible commitment to the public interest. This makes them a significant output worthy of critical inquiry.

By locating this project within the field of arts programming we can begin to analyse the ways in which public service interests and commercial interests routinely co-exists.The focus will be on the ways in which the concept of public service broadcasting, as articulated through arts programming, is negotiated within the practices of media professionals; in particular how their norms, values and routines condition the production of this programming and how these are evolving in an era of niche channelling and multiplatform provision.

This research also contributes to our understanding of television production and distribution, and the opportunities and challenges afforded producers within an increasingly digital media landscape. It will also locate these shifts within wider industry tensions and trends (e.g. specialist versus generalist production, international co-productions, overseas sales, use of celebrities and popular formats, etc).

Why do we need this research?
This research emerges in response to a stark announcement from the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. It was announced that spending on arts programming by the five main public service broadcasters – including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – fell by 39% over the five years to 2011 (Ofcom, 2012). This is despite the continued popularity of The Culture Show (BBC2, 2004 – ) and the recent critical success of Grayson Perry: Who are you (Channel 4, 2014 – ). For audiences and regulators, arts programming has long been viewed as part of broadcasting’s social responsibility (along with genres such as science, religion, children’s and natural history).

The microcosm of arts programming also highlights wider industry tensions which have emerged between specialist producers (often in-house BBC units), independent production companies and niche broadcasters like Sky Arts.

How are we going to do this research?
By combining a variety of methods the research will provide a more nuanced understanding of the complex ways in which arts programming is realised in practice. Interviews, historiography, policy research and textual analysis will be our primary methods (further information can be found on our Research Toolkit page).

As this research develops the data and findings will be disseminated in a variety of ways. Alongside academic publications on the subject, the project will maintain a regular thematic blog and …

We anticipate the findings of this research will be of interest to a number of stakeholders including the arts community, those working in broadcasting, policy-makers, audiences and other academics.

How can you be part of our research?
A key impact of this project will be to bring together different perspectives on arts programming, both historical accounts and contemporary experiences. To that end we would love to hear from those working in the genre (e.g. television and radio professionals, artists who have appeared or are appearing on television or radio), and those with an interest in it (e.g. arts organisations).
You can email the research team on or