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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October 2004, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
BBC digital radio 'must evolve'
Pure Digital Evoke-1
The BBC has five digital radio stations
The BBC's new digital radio services must remain distinctive from commercial rivals to ensure a "healthy" market, an independent report said on Tuesday.

A government-ordered review of the BBC channels said stations such as the Asian Network, 1Xtra, 6 Music, and BBC7 needed "room to evolve further".

The review by ex-Channel 4 TV boss Tim Gardam made several recommendations.

They included making the BBC's radio archive available for sale to its commercial competitors.

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Asian Network - Should be more editorially ambitious
1Xtra - Targets set for percentage of British acts played
6 Music - Clearer remit over playlists of contemporary and archive music

The review looked into the impact on the wider radio market of five BBC digital networks: the Asian Network, Five Live Sports Extra, urban music network 1Xtra, music channel 6 Music, and comedy and drama outlet BBC7.

Mr Gardam, Channel 4's former director of programmes, said the BBC had gone "above and beyond" conditions laid down by the government when they were approved.

"But there has been fall-out for the commercial sector," he said.

Mr Gardam, a former editor of the BBC's Panorama and Newsnight, as well as former head of current affairs for BBC TV and radio, said: "The challenge now is to give the BBC's digital channels the room to evolve further while ensuring they remain distinctive from the services offered by the commercial radio market.

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BBC7 - Call for more original children's programming
Sports rights - Government-backed review of how BBC carries out negotiations on cost
Radio archive - should be available to commercial buyers
Ongoing talks between BBC governors and regulator Ofcom over BBC's market impact
Measurable targets for BBC like commercial radio

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"This is the key to ensuring a healthy digital radio market across the public service and commercial sectors."

Among his recommendations were a review of the BBC's radio sports rights negotiations.

Mr Gardam singled out 1Xtra for praise, saying it had "successfully established credibility in a community that initially had little connection with the BBC".

He also praised 6 Music, describing it as "the BBC's creative enthusiasm at its most impressive".

Mr Gardam said because of licence fee funding, BBC services had delivered a quality of programmes that commercial competitors could not match at this stage.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell said the government needed to work with the BBC while taking into account the concerns of competitors.

"The advance of digital radio may be a quieter revolution than that of digital TV," she said. "But it's a movement that's been gathering momentum."

Targets

In a statement the BBC governors said they were addressing the issue of the BBC's impact on the commercial market, following an internal review in the summer.

Following the review, BBC services now have to qualify for a licence by meeting targets on budget, performance and remit. Proposed new services or major changes to existing ones must also pass a "public value" test.

The governors are due to give a detailed response to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport next month.

Kelvin MacKenzie, head of The Wireless Group which owns Talksport, welcomed the report's call for an independent regulator on sports rights.

He said it would give smaller companies such as Talksport the chance to compete for rights.

"The report marks the beginning of the end of the BBC's overarching dominance in sports rights and we urge Tessa Jowell to accept this recommendation without delay," he said.

In an earlier review, digital TV channels BBC Three and BBC Four were criticised in an earlier review for offering "poor value".

BBC governors responded by saying they would carry out research "to judge the effectiveness and distinctiveness of these new services".

The reviews come as the government decides whether to give the BBC a new royal charter.

The current charter, which sets out the BBC's functions and funding, expires at the end of 2006.




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