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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
BBC gets digital green light
Three new BBC television services and five new radio services have been given conditional approval by the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell.

But BBC Three, a proposed replacement for BBC Choice, has not been approved. The BBC has been asked to rethink its ideas and come up with a new proposal.

It was not clear that its proposals were truly distinctive in an already crowded market

Tessa Jowell on BBC Three
There will also be an independent review of BBC News 24, which has come under criticism from rivals.

Mrs Jowell gave the corporation the green light for the eight services despite opposition from commercial broadcasters.

They had argued that the new BBC services would be too similar to their existing pay-TV channels, and would reduce subscriber numbers and harm their businesses.

    The new services, all free to those with access to digital TV, include:

  • Two television channels for children - one for children aged six to 13, another for those aged under six years

  • BBC Four - a service for "anyone interested in culture, arts and ideas", to replace BBC Knowledge

    We remain convinced that the BBC has much to offer younger audiences

    Sir Christopher Bland

  • Five digital radio services: Network X, for a young specialist audience, Asian Network, Five Live Sports Extra, Network Y, an archive music and voice channel and Network Z, a speech-based service

  • The World Service will also be extended to the UK.

"The BBC still has not made the case for BBC Three, the station for 16 to 34-year-olds," said Mrs Jowell on Thursday.

Greg Dyke
BBC Director General Greg Dyke: Surprised
"It was not clear that its proposals were truly distinctive in an already crowded market, so I have asked the corporation to rethink its plans in this area.

"But overall, the new stations should attract a wider range of viewers to all digital services. This can only be good news for all broadcasters and for the viewer and listener."

BBC director general Greg Dyke said: "We are delighted that the Secretary of State has approved eight of the nine services we proposed.

"However, we are surprised and naturally disappointed that the Secretary of State is not yet convinced by our plans for BBC Three.

"She has invited us to put forward fresh proposals for this channel. We intend to do so with urgency."

He added the BBC was still optimistic it could launch BBC Three next year.

The BBC should have...a presence not only shaped by the competition, but which also helps shape the competition

Tessa Jowell
The decision met with a guarded reaction from other broadcasters.

ITV said it welcomed the services, and Channel 4 gave its conditional support.

Music and arts channel Artsworld and children's broadcaster Nickelodeon UK also gave a cautious approval.

A spokesman for BSkyB said: "We will study this decision and its implications in detail.

"Throughout the consultation process we always argued that new BBC services should not replicate services that were already available and that continues to be our view."

Online support

The government has set conditions for the new BBC services.

Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell: Soon to appoint a new BBC chairman
These include an insistence on high quality, but not at the expense of existing BBC output, the use of home-grown talent and productions, and online support services.

The review of BBC News 24 will check that the service still operates in the way originally approved by the government.

Ms Jowell plans to review all BBC services as part of the review of the BBC's charter.

'Not over-mighty'

She has written to BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland saying she would start with the rolling news channel, which has this week been focusing on the terrorist attacks in the United States.

She has asked the BBC for a detailed assessment of the channel's performance, to be given to an independent reviewer - who will be appointed shortly.

A timetable for the procedure will be drawn up by the end of the month.

Mrs Jowell will set out the full terms of the new services at the Royal Television Society conference, the leading forum for the industry, on Thursday.

"The BBC is big but not over-mighty. It should have an important but not over-powering presence in the digital future, a presence not only shaped by the competition, but which also helps shape the competition as the two interact," she is expected to say.

Mrs Jowell is also expected to name a new BBC chairman shortly.

The BBC's Nick Higham
"The new channel (BBC Three) would have been too similar to existing commercial rivals"
Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary
"It's for the BBC to comeback with a new proposal that is distinctive"
See also:

11 Jun 01 | Entertainment
Jowell's job at the top
11 Jun 01 | TV and Radio
Tessa tackles in-tray
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