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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK


BBC digital death warning

BBC Television Centre: More cash is wanted to make programmes

The BBC will die if it does not get funding to expand in the digital age, bosses have warned.

Digital TV
  • Exactly what do you get?
  • Digital Q&A
  • Freeing up the bandwidth
  • The technology: pros/cons
  • Director of television Alan Yentob said the corporation must develop new services - which already include continuous news, Internet sites and an education channel - to cater for digital viewers' new ways of watching.

    "Put the BBC in a box, and that box will soon become a coffin, and the BBC will wither and die," he told the Royal Television Society (RTS) conference in Cambridge.

    BBC Media Correspondent Nick Higham: Commercial broadcasters disagree with the BBC
    An independent panel led by economist Gavyn Davies has proposed that there should be an annual £24 tax to fund the BBC's fledgling digital TV service.

    The UK Government has still to respond to the proposals, but commercial broadcasters oppose them. They have accused the BBC of using public money to undercut their own digital expansions.

    Granada Media corporate affairs director Chris Hopson said: "We believe that the BBC cannot stretch the licence fee to fund an unlimited number of new services.

    "The elastic simply won't stretch that far."

    New services should pass a rigorous public interest consultation and be self-funding through advertising or commercial co-production, he said.

    "Otherwise that cry we all hear - Why should I pay for channels that I do not watch? - will become a deafening roar."

    [ image: Alan Yentob: Dire warning]
    Alan Yentob: Dire warning
    BSkyB executive Ray Gallagher said Sky News had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds when free channel BBC News 24 was taken by cable companies.

    But BBC head of news Tony Hall said: "News is absolutely at the core of what the BBC is about."

    The heated debate on the final day of the RTS conference ended with a vote on the funding issue.

    A show of hands suggested commercial broadcasters outnumbered BBC staff in the hall, but an informal vote went in favour of the BBC by 142 to 89.

    On Friday, Culture Secretary Chris Smith announced a broad time limit for the final introduction of the "digital revolution".

    He said the switch from analogue to digital TV would happen between 2006 and 2010 if 95% of homes had a digital receiver.

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