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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
BBC repeats prove complex issue
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

David Tennant
Value for money: Repeats of Doctor Who on BBC Three?
The BBC's annual report highlights the somewhat contradictory attitudes of viewers and listeners to repeats, which are often cited as one of the biggest criticisms of the corporation's output.

Research for the new BBC Trust - which represents licence-payers - shows that audiences are demanding greater originality in programmes, and fewer peak-time repeats on BBC One.

Yet they also like the chance to catch up with programmes they've recently missed. Digital television is now available in more than 80% of homes, offering viewers a much greater choice of programmes and fragmenting the audience.

It's right to be very sensitive to the excessive use of repeats in the BBC One peak time
Mark Thompson, BBC director general

This makes it more likely that viewers will miss programmes the first time they're shown, but also gives them a chance to catch up with them on other channels, often later in the week.

Quizzed by MPs on the Culture Media and Sport committee, the BBC director general Mark Thompson said there was nothing wrong with repeating new shows like Doctor Who on different networks or at a different time, so more viewers had the chance to see them.

He told MPs it was possible in future that the BBC would carry more repeats, because the licence-fee settlement had been lower than the corporation had asked for.

New technology

One option for the BBC was to make fewer programmes and create fewer pages for its website, and to make sure licence-payers had more chances to access them.

"It's right to be very sensitive to the excessive use of repeats in the BBC One peak time," he said.

Steptoe and Son
Steptoe and Son was cited as a "good" repeat by one viewer

"One of the things we wanted to do when we made our licence fee bid was to reduce the number of repeats on our television networks.

"We didn't get what we asked for, and I think that what we need to do in this next period is concentrate on getting the best value out of the content we make."

New technology means people can now catch up with programmes in other ways.

How do we solve a problem like Maria

Thousands of radio listeners already catch up with The Archers and Chris Moyles through the BBC Radio Player and later this month a similar catch-up facility for TV programmes will become available, through the BBC iPlayer.

New and fresh

Even in the case of programmes from the archive, the criticism of repeats often simply masks differing personal preferences.

The BBC chairman Sir Michael Lyons told MPs about a woman at one of the BBC's public meetings who'd complained about excessive repeats. She was particularly critical of the BBC's repeated airings of Only Fools and Horses.

He asked her what she'd prefer to see and was surprised when she said Steptoe and Son.

The BBC Trust also highlighted the call by licence-payers for new and fresh programme ideas - saying there was a substantial gap between what the public wanted and what they perceived they were getting from the BBC.

But Mr Thompson told journalists it had been a strong year for BBC programmes, with plenty of originality.

He cited innovative successes such as Planet Earth - with its use of new filming techniques, to show creatures in ways they'd never been seen before - and The Manchester Passion.

Mr Thompson said proof of the BBC's success at innovation lay in the fact that many of its successful formats - such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and The Apprentice - were now being copied by other broadcasters.

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