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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
BBC digital: Commercial concerns
The BBC's digital offer
The BBC 's plans are being scrutinised by competitors
BBC News Online examines why some commercial TV stations are fiercely opposed to the BBC's digital plans.

Some commercial broadcasters have reacted to the BBC's digital expansion plans with alarm.

These include cable and satellite broadcasters BSkyB, Telewest, Discovery Channel, Granada and MTV.

Discovery Channel
Discovery: Concerned about proposed BBC 4
Children's broadcasters known to have reservations include Nickelodeon, Disney and Fox Kids Europe.

Turner Broadcasting - which includes CNN and Cartoon Network - has also expressed concerns about the plans.

Competition in the pay-to-view sector has always been fierce and digital TV has proved an even tougher marketplace.

Competition

Many of the concerns centre on the effect a larger free-to-viewer offer from the BBC would have on the BBC's commercial competitors.

Discovery Channel, which specialises in documentaries and factual programming, sees the possibility of finding itself in direct competition with the new services.

Greg Dyke
Greg Dyke: Sees digital role as essential for BBC
"There is an overlap between the aims of the proposed BBC Four and what Discovery does - and even with BBC Three," a Discovery spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

But Discovery's objections centre more on the nature of the government's decision-making process.

"Surely the government needs to have all the detail of the plans before approving them - as does the industry, to be sure we all have a level playing field," said the spokeswoman.

Daytime strands

"But if we don't have enough information to judge these services, does the government - and if not, why not?" she added.

The BBC's new children's services would be daytime strands on BBC Three and Four - which the BBC says would provide education and entertainment in an advertising-free zone.

One strand would be aimed at pre-school children , the other at 6-13 year olds.

Fox Kids
Fox Kids: Questions about audience share
Annie Miles, managing director for Fox Kids Europe told BBC News Online about the group's concerns.

"We don't necessarily take issue with the concept of a dedicated BBC children's channel.

"The key issues that Fox Kids Europe have had with the proposal is the lack of detail.

'Audience share'

"We couldn't say what effect it would have on our business, as we couldn't tell about scheduling, how much would be new programming and how much acquired.

"So it's difficult to tell what the audience appeal would be and what audience share might be lost to us," she said.

Ms Miles said that Fox Kids Europe approved of the guideline established by the previous Culture Secretary, Chris Smith.

He said that the public service benefit of new BBC services had to outweigh any commercial harm done to competitors.

"We have never had an issue with public service broadcasting to children - but public service must be providing that programming for children which isn't provided by the market, such as British dramas."

'Decision'

Ms Miles also asked whether Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell yet had sufficient information from the BBC to give the plans the go-ahead.

"We do not believe that - unless the BBC has provided more information to the DCMS that we're not aware of - it can be a well-founded decision," she said.

Culture minister Tessa Jowell
Jowell: Verdict on BBC plans awaited
Should Ms Jowell give the go-ahead to the BBC's plans this week, some opponents of the BBC's new services are even considering going to the High Court to seek a judicial review.

Their case may be helped by the fact that BBC Knowledge - the proposed BBC Four - has been licensed by commercial TV regulator, the Independent Television Commission rather than being sanctioned under the corporation's Royal Charter.

This arrangement was made because the BBC did not have space on its own digital allocation to broadcast the channel - and the corporation was allowed to transmit it via the commercial digital network, operated by S4C's digital network SDN.

The BBC is trying to find room on its own multiplex system for the proposed services but cannot confirm whether this would be possible before the services are launched.

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