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Monday, 21 September, 1998, 22:42 GMT 23:42 UK
BBC unveils digital TV
bbc choice
BBC Choice: The first BBC's general entertainment channel in 34 years
The BBC will kick off the digital TV era on Wednesday with the new channel, BBC Choice.

It will join BBC One, BBC Two and BBC News 24 as the first four channels to be broadcast on Britain's digital satellite and terrestrial services.

The BBC's digital programme was launched at Television Centre in London by Director-General Sir John Birt, who promised more services would quickly follow.

"Free for every household"

He said: "This commitment to public service broadcasting will ensure the BBC brings the benefits of digital broadcasting to every household, not just to those who can pay extra."

But the new channel, to be launched at 1200 (1100GMT) on Wednesday, will not be a ratings winner until 1 October when the equipment to pick up digital broadcasts will be in the shops.

Decoders for the ONDigital terrestrial service, which will also carry ITV's digital services, go on sale in November. Digital cable services will start soon after.

bbc learning
BBC Learning: Teletubbies say eh-oh to digital
BBC Choice, which launches on Wednesday, will be the BBC's first free general entertainment channel since BBC Two's launch in 1964. It will offer back-up for programmes already seen on BBC One and BBC Two.

For example, viewers of Match of The Day can switch to BBC Choice to watch more news and comment in 'fanzine'-style show Row Z.

BBC Choice will offer a 'best of' selection of the week's talked-about shows on Saturday nights, while theme evenings will support launches of major programmes on BBC One and Two.

There will also be extra sporting and event coverage, so tennis fans can enjoy uninterrupted coverage of events like Wimbledon, while music fans can see events such as Glastonbury in much greater detail.

There will also be extra programming for viewers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"A friendly channel"

Head of Programming Katharine Everett said: "We want BBC Choice to be a friendly channel, to give additional value to viewers, to take them behind the scenes of the BBC and give them a chance to participate in the channel."

BBC News 24, which is already seen on local cable networks, offers round-the-clock reporting from the BBC's network of correspondents around the world.

bbc news 24
BBC News 24: Already broadcasting, and part of the BBC digital package
BBC Learning, launching next year, aims to be "educational, entertaining and informative," and aims to make the most of the greater text and interactive services on offer with digital broadcasting.

Viewers will be able to call up extra information on programmes at the touch of a button, such as biographies of featured personalities. It will also be possible for viewers to choose their own camera angles during programmes.

In addition to these, the corporation is also developing pay television channels to join UK Gold and its sister channels UK Arena, UK Style, UK Arena and UK Horizons. One of these will be UK Play, a television version of BBC Radio 1.

Radio also expanding

BBC network radio is already broadcast in digital, but few listeners have bought the receivers, which currently cost 800.

sir john birt
Sir John Birt: "BBC always a pioneer of technology"
New tuners are being developed now to accommodate the current five national services, plus proposals for BBC Parliament, which offers gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Commons and Lords; the Asian Network, which is currently only broadcast in the Midlands; a new music service to exploit the archives of Radios One and Two; and side-channels to back-up Radio Five Live, to allow it to continue non-stop news coverage during sporting events, and vice versa.

Critics have said the BBC's expansion into digital broadcasting is unnecessary and is damaging the output of the present channels.

But Sir John argues it is the BBC's duty to extend its public service remit into digital broadcasting.

"The BBC has always been a pioneer of technology. We spearheaded radio in the '20s, ad television in the '30s. Now we are spearheading digital; broadcasting in the '90s.

"The BBC's role in the digital age will be the same as in analogue. We will bring new services to our licence payers, to deepen their satisfaction, to unleash our best talents and show the world what we can do."

See also:

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09 Jul 98 | Sci/Tech
BBC unveils digital radio
19 Aug 98 | Your Money
Interactive TV wars
31 Aug 98 | Entertainment
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29 Jul 98 | Entertainment
Unscrambling digital TV
16 Sep 98 | UK
BBC sets out pledges
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