Has the BBC created its own cuckoo in the nest?

The BBC has managed to get its new channels, first UKTV, then News 24, off to a relatively successful start, even though they are restricted to tiny cable audiences at present. Having witnessed the dreadful birth pangs, I am pretty impressed by the relatively glitch free way News 24 eventually made its public debut on Sunday evening.

The BBC has managed to get its new channels, first UKTV, then News

24, off to a relatively successful start, even though they are

restricted to tiny cable audiences at present. Having witnessed the

dreadful birth pangs, I am pretty impressed by the relatively glitch

free way News 24 eventually made its public debut on Sunday evening.



But the question we need to think about is: what will happen to the

mainstream mixed interest channels, ITV, BBC1 and even BBC2 and Channel

4 in the longer run as more stranded and pay-per-view channels spring up

to cater for special interests. Up to now it has been received wisdom

that multichannel TV has failed to make the really significant impact on

viewing figures thought likely by even forecasters such as Zenith eight

years ago - outside of the sports and film market.



It has been easy to point to their crude audience shares, typically 0.1

per cent for services like Sky 2 and the SciFi Channel, and pronounce

that terrestrial TV, free-to-air, has a lot of life left in it. And so

it has, although the aggregated viewing figures, around 12 per cent of

total share, are beginning to look significant as the new channels edge

upwards.



But I think the issue of the long-term is raised much more directly and

urgently by the BBC channels, and to a lesser extent by services such as

Granada Plus than, say, the arrival of CNN, Court TV in America or even

most of Sky’s services so far.



This is because the rolling news channel is so obviously part of the

existing BBC family that once it becomes as freely available as BBC2,

news junkies will be watching it in preference to the main BBC1 news

bulletins and Newsnight.



After all, its key presenters and correspondents are familiar BBC faces:

they may take off their jackets, but they haven’t lost their

authority.



And you can repeat the experience with the other new channels from the

BBC/Flextech deal: UKTV’s Horizons, Style and Arena - offer top quality

documentaries, lifestyle and arts and cultural programmes respectively,

with more to come. The top programme producers are starting to play

against their own mass market services, with their own programme

libraries and creative talent.



One of ITV’s principal architects, Sir Denis Forman, observed that

current mixed schedule channels were virtually dead on their feet. You

already witness the migration of children in multichannel homes to the

Cartoon Network. It seems clear that the main UK channels, even the BBC,

will inevitably become more focused on entertainment and popular drama

as multichannel TV becomes freely available.



Even if news doesn’t move out of prime time, it will go to the

periphery.



And it will become far more populist, blending with the programmes

around it



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