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BBC Three's '60Second' news celebrates 10 years on air

By
Sam and Claudia from 60 Second News
As the rather tedious Paul Daniels-fronted BBC One gameshow once astutely pointed out, every second counts. Whether it be the shaved tenths of Formula One lap times or the crushing pressure of life-saving surgery, sometimes the tiny unit of time is the most important.

This ethos underpins the BBC's 60Second news roundup, which began life in 2001 on BBC Choice, the digital channel that became BBC Three in 2003. The idea was simple, cover all of the day's most important news stories in just 60 seconds, and its stayed pretty much the same ever since. With tomorrow being 60Second's tenth anniversary on air, Digital Spy met the team behind the strand to find out why 60 is the magic number.

60Second sits right in the heart of the BBC News team at Television Centre, the historic West London headquarters that the BBC is in the process of selling. The team sits in the News On-Demand department, alongside the online video team and the BBC News multi-screen on satellite TV and now Samsung connected TVs.

Nicky Schiller has been with 60Second from the outset, seeing the programme rise in prominence after the decision to axe the nightly 7pm newscast on BBC Three in 2005. Sam Naz now presents 60Second from Monday to Thursday, while new recruit Claudia-Liza Armah joined four weeks ago to deliver the weekend bulletins.

As Naz succinctly put it, 60Second "does exactly what is says on the tin". The idea is simple yet effective - each 60-second bulletin must cover the five biggest stories of the day with each have just ten seconds and three sentences to sum up. The format has since been picked up by various other broadcasters, most notably rival youth-orientated digital channel ITV2.

Schiller said simply that "the great idea they had ten years ago still works now". He showed a video of the first ever bulletin, featuring a story about Michael Portillo dropping out of the Conservative Party leadership race and another about a Chinese lorry driver falling asleep at the wheel.

At that time the team shared a studio with Liquid News, the previous news roundup on BBC Three, meaning they had the luxury of a six-strong gallery handling the broadcast. Times have changed and now only two people work on each evening's transmission - a presenter and a producer who handles production and playout.

Schiller was quick to stress that 60Second is a "cost effective" and "really honed" service, but he also noted that improvements in technology over the last decade have made it possible to operate such a skeleton team.

Schiller or another producer uses an ITX playout suite for each broadcast, while graphics such as the pink news ticker are handled by another BBC department. It may seem an easy task to present a news roundup in a minute, but Naz and Armah have to juggle a somewhat unique set of tasks.

Inside a tiny studio (basically a glorified broom cupboard with a blue screen backdrop where the graphics are overlaid) the presenters must deliver the bulletin while scrolling the autocue manually from a handheld control device, being careful to manage the pace and not show the audience what they are doing.

Moreover, the accompanying story images and time bar will keep advancing whatever they do, and so it's a mad dash to keep up. Most important for the 60Second team is being able to hone down often complex news stories into a snapshot. As Schiller explains: "We take the most complicated stories of the day and boil them down to just 10 seconds and three sentences. It's about giving news on the channel in a format that works for this audience."

These past two weeks have been momentous for news - the phone hacking scandal, the fall of the News of the World and the growing storm around media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

But distilling often breaking news stories into such a small piece is a big challenge. At least one member of the 60Second team always attends the BBC News-wide meeting at 3.15pm every day to get the agenda for what stories are breaking. They also work with the BBC Newsbeat team and the sprawling BBC newsgathering operation. According to Schiller, it's also about understanding what their audience wants from news.

BBC Three is aimed at a 16-34-year-old audience, and Schiller said that his team always "assume the audience has not seen news from the traditional outlets that day, and so are new to the stories". This requires a "back to basics" approach - the classic who, what, when and how of journalism. He said that "so much TV news assumes knowledge on the viewer's part", but that is not how BBC Three works. Instead 60Second is designed as a snapshot of the day's events, giving people a roundup of the major stories to then pursue more information from other news services and social networks.

Schiller said that young people view news differently to older audiences, in that they don't see stories in silos of news, sport and entertainment, but instead focus on what matters most to them. This means that the 60Second team may lead on a sport or entertainment story rather than what is first on the main BBC News, because this is what young people are talking about.

When Michael Jackson died, for example, the whole bulletin was devoted to the pop legend because the story was so important to younger audiences. But equally, that was an example of a massive and breaking story in which new information was emerging every second. "That is when you earn your money," said Schiller. "But it's also the most exciting time."

The team can alter or swap stories within minutes of going on air, particularly with breaking news or sport results. There is also the "light and shade" of news - the mix between hard-nosed stories and the weird and wonderful. Armah pointed out that the "more random" stories are sometimes the most popular, noting a recent piece about a dead mouse being found in a piece of bread that "went crazy on Twitter".

60Second also regularly does a roundup of global news stories from other broadcasters, such as CNN, Al Jazeera, CTT and NHK. Schiller explained this has the peculiar side-effect of 60Second sometimes covering a global story up to three days before the main BBC News bulletins.

Over the past year, the BBC itself has often been the story. The corporation is facing sweeping cuts of up to 20%, meaning the future of all BBC services is under review. BBC Three has faced consistent criticism from certain quarters, often using the example of bubblegum shows such as Snog Marry Avoid to demonstrate the lack of justification for its £100m-plus annual budget.

But the 60Second team passionately believe that the channel represents value for money, pointing to acclaimed factual programmes such as Our War and Young People's Question Time as evidence of this.

They noted that BBC Three has a stronger track record of supporting new British talent, particularly compared with the US import-laden schedules of commercial rivals. But mostly they feel that criticism of BBC Three does not come from its target audience. "If you speak to 16 to 34-year-olds," said Armah, "you get a much different messages".

The future of BBC Three is a news story that is yet to be written, and any BBC plans to axe the channel would first have to face scrutiny from the BBC Trust and licence fee payers. Regardless, Schiller said that his team will simply continue summing up the world in 60 seconds, maybe even for another ten years.

"We are a hard, solid and credible news source that occasionally puts a smile on your face," he said. "It's like Sam said, 60Second does exactly what it says on the tin. We deliver a 60-second news hit and we will continue to do so whatever happens in the future."

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