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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Ambitious relaunch for Sky News
By Torin Douglas
BBC News media correspondent

Eamonn Holmes and Lorna Dunkley
Former GMTV host Eamonn Holmes will host the new breakfast show
Sky News has relaunched with an ambitious new schedule to match "the very best" offered by the terrestial channels.

In the 17 years since it launched as the UK's first 24-hour TV news channel, Sky News has built a strong reputation for breaking news.

In its new home, it is setting out to be something more - challenging the terrestrial broadcasters in the quality and analysis of its journalism.

The new studio is certainly big. Twice the size of the old studio, it absorbs the whole newsroom. One journalist compared it to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

The presentation desk revolves to give a variety of backdrops and the production process is server-based, allowing the graphics, online and interactive teams to access news material at the same time as programme producers.

So, big, clever - but will it be better?

'Appointment to view'

Sky News flash
Sky News has built a strong reputation for breaking news

The rolling news format that has run throughout the day since Sky launched is being broken up to provide dedicated shows, each designed to cater for different audience demands at different times.

The channel has set out to create "appointment to view" programmes such as The Sky Report with Julie Etchingham at 7pm.

It describes this as its "most ambitious new programme, with top production talent harvested from Dimbleby, Channel 4 News, Newsnight and Tonight".

Sky intends it should compete "with the very best that the terrestrial channels offer in terms of exclusive stories and guests, production values and analysis".

Then there is World News Tonight with James Rubin, the former chief foreign affairs spokesman to President Clinton. The show promises an international news agenda and interviews with major players across the globe, beginning with Tony Blair.

These changes will seek to broaden our appeal while cementing our position as the most innovative force in news television
Nick Pollard, Sky News

Jeremy Thompson will host Live at Five, a daily news digest including "the first weblog written by a UK news presenter as part of the show".

And Eamonn Holmes has joined from GMTV to front a revamped breakfast programme.

First with news

But can these dedicated programmes co-exist with Sky's continuing and overriding ambition to be first with breaking news?

Nick Pollard, the head of Sky News, insists there is no conflict. He says the new programmes are constructed to be broken into at any stage to announce significant news, and they could still be scrapped altogether during a major event.

But rivals believe there must be a loss of focus, as Sky strives to balance the competing demands for people and resources - as the BBC and ITN have to do.

BBC News 24
BBC News 24 is seen as Sky News' closest rival

Producers from Dimbleby and Newsnight have different skills from those whose job is breaking news. And if they're halfway into a lovingly-crafted eight-minute report - or an exclusive interview with Tony Blair - their first instinct may not be to switch to a breaking news story.

These days Sky also has to consider the needs of the terrestrial channel Five, for which it now provides news bulletins. Some claim this is another distraction.

While it still attracts the biggest audiences during major breaking news events, Sky News runs neck and neck with BBC News 24 at other times.

Pollard says Sky has a slightly bigger share of viewing, while News 24 is just ahead in terms of 'reach', attracting a wider group of viewers.

BBC battle

The ITV News Channel - which Pollard rates journalistically - is some way behind. With 63 per cent of homes now able to receive the 24-hour news channels - and digital switchover on the way - all the broadcasters are reassessing their strategy.

Five news presenter Kirsty Young
Since January Sky has provided bulletins for Five's evening news

The BBC declared some time ago that News 24 was to be given a higher priority. The new head of BBC TV News, Peter Horrocks, makes it clear he's taking that intention seriously.

"With the government's firm announcement of analogue switch off, continuous news is now crucial," he recently told BBC staff.

"Already two thirds of the audience can receive it and five million watch it every week. Within a few years everyone will be able to receive it.

"News 24 is already mainstream and successful. We now need to put it centre stage. I'd like every journalist in the BBC to see News 24 as the place where the biggest stories should be told, preferably first."

The editors and presenters of other BBC news programmes may not agree, but at least they can comfort themselves with the thought that Sky News may now face some of the same problems.


SEE ALSO
New shows for Sky News relaunch
21 Oct 05 |  Entertainment

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