The BBC has denied reports it plans to "dumb down" its shows after discovering lower-income families aren't tuning in.
Director general Mark Thompson says the BBC faces "tough choices"
Several UK papers claim BBC research shows high earners are more likely to watch its channels, while staff feel shows like Panorama are "too serious".
As a result, executives are said to have ordered more populist programmes like Fat Men Can't Hunt and Doctor Who.
A BBC spokeswoman said the reports were "ludicrous", and that the research was part of an unfinished pilot scheme.
Called the Household Value Survey, the scheme is intended to give the corporation a "better insight into what audiences want," she said.
It is designed to look at whether viewers enjoy the programmes they watch, rather than relying on the "crude measurement of numbers" provided by viewing figures.
Following its initial findings, which have not been made public, the BBC has commissioned a larger piece of research to be carried out over the next few weeks.
BBC One claims
According to press reports, the initial findings show that BBC Three and BBC Four are less likely to be watched by low-income households, particularly those living in the north of England and Scotland.
It has also been reported that 50-year-old BBC One controller Peter Fincham told programme-makers he did not want his channel to be watched by people of his age, and that any show that attracted audiences of less than two million would be disappointing.
The BBC said it had "no idea why these quotes appeared".
"We should be producing things that the whole audience wants and not just serving one part of audience," added the spokeswoman.
Doctor Who is amongst the BBC's most popular programmes
"It could mean current affairs programmes are made more palatable, but it could also mean more complex investigations if that's what people want."
When the new licence fee was announced in January, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell warned the BBC would have to invest in "high quality content".
BBC director general Mark Thompson said the lower-than-expected settlement meant "tough choices" for the corporation.
"I don't believe that you're going to see a sudden burst of repeats on BBC One," he added. "We know that the public expect outstanding, original programmes."