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Thursday, March 19, 1998 Published at 23:24 GMT


BBC in landmark broadcast deal
image: [ Trafalgar Square will introduce the new channel to America ]
Trafalgar Square will introduce the new channel to America

The BBC and US media company Discovery have announced a multi-million pound deal to make programmes together for channels to be launched around the world.

BBC Director-General John Birt defends the commercial stance, on Radio 4's World Tonight (3'05")
The BBC said the latest chapter in its increased commercial activities will pump US dollars into factual programmes which will be shown on licence-funded channels in Britain.

"This partnership will help the BBC become the world's leading global broadcaster, building on the international success and reputation of the BBC World Service," said BBC Director General John Birt.

"This is good news for Britain, for the licence payer, for British talent and for the BBC," he said. "It will mean more quality programmes on BBC1 and BBC2.

As part of the deal, the BBC will be launching BBC America at the end of March.

The five-year partnership with the Discovery company is worth $565m (£337m).

Discovery is one of the US's top five cable channels, reaching 37 million American homes.

It has built a strong reputation for top quality documentaries about science, history and nature.

John Hendricks, the founder and chief executive of Discovery called the deal a "match made in media heaven".

In accordance with the terms of the BBC's licence, no money from British viewers will be put at risk through the deal.

BBC America will offer a mix of drama, comedy and news. British favourites such as EastEnders will be shown directly after their transmission in the UK.

Discovery will distribute the channel and handle advertising.

New funds for documentaries

Torin Douglas, BBC Media Correspondent, analyses the BBC's future (2'40")
Discovery will also provide $175m (£104m) to co-produce new factual programmes, though Ronald Neil, chief executive of BBC Production, insisted BBC staff would retain "total editorial control."

The BBC has been doing co-productions with Discovery and other broadcasters for many years. Around $20m of work had already been agreed in the last year with Discovery alone in anticipation of the deal.

The BBC will take a share in the profits from two other channels - People and Arts and Animal Planet - though it will not have to share any losses.

It will have a half share in the former. It was launched in October 1997 and currently goes out in Spanish to 5.2 million people in Latin America.

Animal Planet was launched by Discovery in mid-1997 in the US and is now also available in Spanish in Latin America and to 1.5m people in Europe.

The BBC will have a 20% stake in Animal Planet in the US and 50% in the rest of the world.

The partnership intends to make the two channels available in more countries, including the UK, and intends to launch additional channels in future.

The BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, contributed £73.5m to the organization's coffers in 1996 and intends to triple this figure within ten years.

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