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UK Government will approve BBC digi-channels

By | August 29, 2001

      Despite pulling out of the prestigious Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, UK media minister Tessa Jowell is widely expected to shortly announce approval for the BBC to go ahead and launch a raft of four digital channels. However, the result is not a total victory for the BBC, for the government is expected to insist on much tighter controls designed to safeguard public service principles. The rules are also understood to go beyond what the BBC itself had proposed in detailed negotiations on the issue. The formal go-ahead is likely to emerge at the upcoming Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge, where again Jowell is due to speak.

      The four channels comprise BBC3 and 4, (the revamped BBC Choice and Knowledge channels), plus two children’s services. BBC3 will adopt a popular approach while BBC4 has been described as taking a more intellectual tone. Digital subscribers will get the channels free, but the total cost is estimated at more than GBP300 million.

      Commercial broadcasters, including Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon and Fox Kids Europe, who insist the new channels would merely duplicate the pay services they already offer, have vigorously opposed the new digital channels. The BBC’s controller of digital channels, Roly Keating, denies this.

      Granada chief executive Steve Morrison also attacked the BBC’s proposals, arguing: “We support the principle of the BBC adding to its portfolio of channels but our concern is the balance of the spending between the channels. They are talking of GBP100m investment in BBC3. [This] investment is disproportionately commercial with very little public service.

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