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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 13:56 GMT
Public consulted on BBC digital plans
BBC TV Centre
The BBC requires government approval to proceed with digital plans
Viewers and listeners in the UK are being asked by the government for their views on BBC proposals for new TV and radio digital services.

The BBC wants to set up four new TV channels and five digital radio channels before March 2003 .

All will be funded by the licence fee. The corporation says its own research shows strong public support for the plans.

But the government needs to conduct its own survey before giving the go-ahead.

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Children's TV will be given a boost with two channels

The BBC requires the approval of Culture Secretary Chris Smith before it can change its services or launch new ones.

The public and other broadcasters must also be consulted.

The BBC currently has two digital TV channels, BBC Choice and BBC Knowledge.

It wants to replace these with four new ones. They would include two services for children, one for pre-school children and the other for 6-13 year-olds.

BBC Three would be a youth-oriented channel, largely replacing the output of BBC Choice. BBC Four would be an arts and culture channel.

The radio services would include a black music and news network and a national version of the local BBC Asian network.

Radio archive of concerts and music interviews from the BBC would be raided to develop a station focusing on the music that helped shape contemporary popular culture.

The BBC's World Service would also be broadcast using these platforms. There would also be a live sports station, extending coverage of Radio 5Live.

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Archive footage of the Beatles could be part of one new radio service

In its six-week public consultation period, from 3 October to 17 November, the BBC received 6,768 public responses.

The BBC says more than 80% of those questioned said they would welcome the plans.

They particularly liked the idea of children's channels with no advertising.

In addition, more than 80% of Caribbean and Asia respondents backed the BBC proposals for radio networks focusing on their cultures.

The BBC's commercial broadcasting rivals are also being asked to submit comments to Mr Smith.

Many are expected to say they are unhappy with the plans, considering some of the services as unfair competition.

BSkyB, MTV, Turner Broadcasting - which includes CNN and Cartoon Network - Nickelodeon, Telewest and Discovery have already written to Mr Smith expressing their concerns.

Chris Smith
Mr Smith promises a fair debate

BBC Three could provide competition for MTV and BSkyB's Sky One, while its children's channels could pose a threat to Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network.

Discovery and Telewest's channels could also be affected, as well as Artsworld, a joint venture between BSkyB and Sir Jeremy Isaacs.

Mr Smith has assured satellite and cable companies that it was a "primary concern" that any new BBC services took account of the licence fee rules.

He has also stated that the views of both the industry and public would be carefully considered.

The government is asking the public and other broadcasters to submit its views on the BBC's plans by the end of February.

It is likely that the government will have reached its decision on the BBC's digital plans by the end of spring.

See also:

18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Appleton 'to host BBC travel show'
28 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Pop archives get digital airing
17 Aug 00 | Business
Digital TV use spreading
04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
'Fairness' promised over BBC digital plans
12 Dec 00 | UK Politics
No 'digital divide' under Labour
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