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EDITIONS
Monday, 10 February, 2003, 02:22 GMT
The rivals' view of BBC Three
Comedian Steve Coogan as Pauline and Paul Calf. Coogan was promoted in BBC Three's launch campaign
BBC Three was first accused of being too commercial

As BBC Three went on the air, no one will have been watching more keenly than its commercial rivals.

They are now questioning the BBC's right to the licence fee that pays for the new channel, and some go further.

Faced with a long-term decline in advertising, the chief executive of Granada, Charles Allen, and the deputy chairman of Channel 4, Barry Cox, have both just demanded that the BBC share the licence fee with commercial broadcasters.

Mr Allen told a Royal Television Society dinner: "ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - we've all been doing our public service best to shame the BBC into doing what it was set up to do - to keep the other broadcasters honest."

BBC Three remains primarily an entertainment channel, majoring on comedy and drama

BBC Three - as the last of the BBC's digital channels, and the most controversial - finds itself at the eye of this storm.

The owners of pay channels like MTV, E4, Bravo, Sky One and the Comedy Channel protested loudly when its original plans were published.

They claimed the channel was too commercial, aiming at a young audience already well catered for by advertising-funded stations.

The Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell agreed, turning down the BBC's proposals on the grounds they were not distinctive enough to justify public funding.

Homegrown content

Now the BBC has beefed up the public-service content, injecting more news, current affairs, documentaries and education programmes.

Unlike the American-dominated schedules of its rivals, 90% of the programming is homegrown - and it carries a 15-minute news bulletin in peak time.

If BBC Three does well, the commercial stations will accuse it of being too popular and forsaking its public service remit

Approving the new channel, Jowell has imposed twelve "stringent" conditions, and its rivals will be watching like hawks to see it keeps to them.

Yet BBC Three remains primarily an entertainment channel, majoring on comedy and drama.

In its launch campaign, it promotes stars like Johnnie Vaughan, Steve Coogan and Dom Joly - and for the first two weeks, it is premiering EastEnders, the night before BBC One.

Ratings eyed

It also repeats EastEnders and will preview the cult American drama series 24 (like BBC Choice, the channel it replaces).

If it does poorly, rivals will accuse the BBC of wasting licence-payers' money on a channel nobody watches

All eyes will be on its ratings and the BBC believes it will be damned whichever way they turn out.

If BBC Three does well, the commercial stations will accuse it of being too popular and forsaking its public service remit.

This will be to the cheers of the BBC's other critics, including a growing band of TV-licence refuseniks, headed by the Sunday Times columnist Jonathan Miller.

If it does poorly, they will accuse the BBC of wasting licence-payers' money on a channel nobody watches.

The best answer that BBC Three could give its opponents would be some creative and critical hits.


BBC Three debut

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10 Feb 03 | Entertainment
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