Commercial TV launches last-ditch attempt to block BBC Three

LONDON - Commercial television broadcasters meet with culture secretary Tessa Jowell today in a last-ditch effort to stop the BBC's youth channel BBC Three getting the go ahead.

Executives from the UK's leading commercial broadcasters such as Channel 5, Channel 4, BSkyB and ITV are expected to argue that the young adult sector -- at which BBC3 is aimed -- is already "super-served".

Channel 4 has E4, its struggling digital youth entertainment channel, while Sky has its digital free-to-air channel Sky One. Channel 5 and ITV are worried that BBC3 will further splinter the 16- to 34-year-old audience, moving it away from terrestrial channels.

The commercial sector is already suffering from the global slump in advertising, and the BBC's change of policy to broadcast more mass-market programming on BBC1 has added to ITV's woes.

The BBC's first proposal for BBC3, which has a provisional budget of £90m a year, was rejected by Jowell on the grounds that its programming was not distinctive enough.

The BBC resubmitted its plans, adding a 15-minute news bulletin at peak time and at least 30 half-hour current affairs programmes a year.

However, the commercial sector is still unhappy, objecting that 85% of the channel is entertainment-based programming.

Commercial TV executives at the meeting, including BSkyB chief executive Tony Ball and ITV chief executive Stuart Prebble, are expected to ask that at least some of BBC3's budget be given to BBC4. The new arts and culture channel, which is set to replace BBC Knowledge next week, has an annual budget of just £35m.

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