The Unseen Network

The BBC supports a network of creative individuals who work in off-screen roles. It is a form of infrastructure that needs to be recognised when considering the role of the BBC within the creative sector.

The interactive data visualisation shows the network of programmes that were broadcast on the BBC in 2013 and 2014, and the people who helped to make those programmes who worked in off-screen roles. View the interactive visualisation (requires a modern browser, such as Chrome). A set of screenshots can be downloaded from the right-hand panel.

In July the Government launched the BBC Charter Review which will consider the future of this historic institution.[1] The review comprises four themes, the second of which is “the scale and scope of the BBC” (p.10). Within this theme the review will examine “the role played by the BBC within the wider media and creative sector”. The importance of this role is frequently observed, and several studies have estimated the BBC’s value to the economy.[2] These estimates are generated by applying a multiplier to the BBC’s expenditure within creative industries. While this ‘macro’ approach helps to place a single value on the BBC’s role, it is easy to forget that this value is generated, in the first place, by a group of creative people interacting with the BBC. Examining its role from this ‘micro’ perspective reveals that the BBC supports a dense network of creative talent.

From the creative sector as a whole, we narrowed our focus to examine how the BBC interacts with individuals who work in off-screen roles for television. This includes writers and directors, but excludes those appearing in on-screen roles such as actors and presenters (who are the subject of another blog post). Using the BBC’s programme database (Nitro), we collected the name of every individual who appeared in a leading[3] off-screen role on a programme that was broadcast in 2013 or 2014 on the BBC’s four main channels.[4] After combining shows that were from the same series or brand (such as ‘EastEnders’) this left a sample of just under 1,500 programmes, with an average of four off-screen roles per programme. Those roles were filled by around 3,500 unique people. It is important to recognise that there is variation in the BBC’s relationship with these individuals. Some are working directly for the BBC, while others are working on programmes that have been commissioned by, or simply broadcast on, the BBC.

The programmes that were broadcast over this two year period may appear to be distinct entities. However they are tied together by their off-screen contributors. Just under a third of individuals worked on more than one programme. This tendency creates connections between programmes and around 75% of programmes are connected to a central cluster within the network.[5][6] Just as roads enable the flow of traffic, this network can facilitate the flow of ideas and skills, and may help to foster collaboration between contributors. The interactive visualisation describes the network in more detail. It shows that programmes in certain genres tend to cluster together, and it identifies programmes which may act as hubs for connecting creative talent.[7]

In summary, the BBC supports a network of creative talent. It is a form of infrastructure that needs to be recognised when considering the role of the BBC within the creative sector. Our analysis opens up a number of avenues for future research. These include examining the evolution of the network overtime, and comparing the network to other broadcasters. Both avenues would require additional sources of data[8], but exploring these areas would allow government and the industry to critically evaluate the role of the BBC and its competitors within the creative sector.

[1] BBC Charter Review Public Consultation Document

[2] One example is The Economic Value of the BBC: 2011/12 Report

[3] Leading off-screen roles are defined to be writers, directors, editors, producers, series editors, executive producers, and series producers. The reason for focussing on these roles is that they are consistently recorded within Nitro.

[4] We excluded films, animations, repeats, programmes whose release dates were before 2013 and programmes which were missing credits or had no release date.

[5] Programmes not in the central cluster tend to be those that were broadcast but not produced by the BBC. One example is ‘Parks and Recreation’.

[6] Programme credits can only ever approximate the true underlying network.

[7] The position of the nodes in the network is determined by an algorithm that pulls together nodes which are connected and pushes apart nodes which are not. The result is that people are placed near the programmes they worked on. A larger node implies a greater number of connections.

[8] The BBC’s programme database, Nitro, does not contain credits for a number of the programmes broadcast before 2012.


Cath Sleeman

Cath Sleeman

Cath Sleeman

Head of Data Discovery, Data Analytics Practice

Dr Cath Sleeman is the Head of Data Discovery.

View profile