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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 12:16 GMT
BBC Four has first birthday
BBC Four controller Roly Keating
BBC Four controller Roly Keating is pleased with the first year
Digital channel BBC Four celebrates its first birthday on Sunday.

The anniversary comes as it receives a record number of nominations for a digital channel in the Royal Television Society (RTS) Awards.

The channel has also announced audience figures of more than 12 million since it went on air in March last year.

This equates to 47% of the digital audience having tuned into the BBC Four in its first year.

The channel has received awards in the best science & natural history programme, best network newcomer, best acquired programme and best arts programme categories.

In the best arts programme award the channel has two of the three nominations, including one for The Man Who Destroyed Everything, the programme about performance artist Michael Landy which launched the channel a year ago.

'Real quality'

BBC Four replaced BBC Knowledge. At its launch in March 2002, 11,000 people tuned in to the first night's programming.

BBC Four now claims audiences of more than1.4 million a week.

But there has been criticism in certain quarters about low audience figures for some of the shows and the amount of money spent on starting it up.

But BBC Four controller Roly Keating said they had actually been very careful about the amount of investment and that the BBC prided itself on being at the forefront of new technology.

He sees the future of digital television in general as continuing to grow, with another wave of channel launches still to come.

"The quality of digital television has got to continue to rise which was one of the reasons why the BBC got involved in the medium," said Mr Roly.

"The digital market place is more open and it is a rapidly changing environment."

Larry David
Curb Your Enthusiasm is a recent BBC Four acquisition
Mr Keating is also delighted at receiving the RTS nominations, seeing it as one of the highlights of the year.

"These RTS nominations prove that digital television can stand for real quality. They're a tribute to the quality of talent we've been lucky enough to attract to the channel in its first year," he said.

"It's also great to see our viewer base steadily expanding - for a channel with BBC Four's unique remit to have now reached nearly half of all digital viewers is a particularly satisfying achievement," Keating said.

Race in football

The channel has also announced several major new projects for the coming year.

A documentary series on the National Trust will be shown in the summer, which was 18 months in the making, includes behind-the-scenes access to the trust buying Beatle John Lennon's boyhood home in Liverpool.

Another documentary, Black Footballers, looks at British football's relationship with its black players.

The channel has recently been nominated for a Commission for Racial Equality award.

Also in the summer, the channel will devote an entire night to short films, called Shortest Night.

Other major documentaries include a look at the British Museum as it marks its 250th anniversary, and a profile on French post- impressionist Paul Gauguin on the centenary of the artist's death.

The channel has been promoting itself as a "place to think" since replacing BBC Knowledge.

It has also just started showing its first comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, which stars Seinfeld co-creator Larry David.

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