IPA criticises BBC's digital plans

LONDON - The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has hit out at the BBC's digital television and radio plans, calling them potentially damaging to the commercial sector.

The comments were made by Jim Marshall, the MediaVest CEO and chairman of the IPA Media Policy Group. He called for the broadcaster to be brought under the regulatory powers of potential super-watchdog Ofcom.

Yesterday, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell agreed to allow eight out of nine digital TV channels and radio stations proposed by the BBC to go ahead. It rejected plans for a channel aimed at the 16-34-year-old market, which has been dubbed the Radio 1 of TV, which the broadcaster is allowed to redraw and resubmit at a later date.

Marshall believes that the BBC's proposals duplicate what is already available on commercial TV.

BBC3 is seen as being too close to rivals Sky One and E4, while BBC4 would be in direct competition with Artsworld. The children's channels will enter a very crowded market already occupied by the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Fox Kids and Nickelodeon.

Marshall said, "The minister may have acted to prevent the most blatant example of duplication by rejecting the corporation's current plans for BBC3, but Fox, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel have already sounded warnings of the potentially dire consequences of the state monolith crashing into their markets."

Marshall's second fear is that the creation of BBC4 - a TV version of high brow BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, will result in the "dumbing down" of BBC1.

He said, "Leaving aside an operating budget which is only one third or so of its radio counterpart, it is hard not to think of BBC4 as simply a potential ghetto for BBC arts and political programming in a deliberate policy to dumb down BBC1. The Minister may issue warnings about stripping BBC1 and BBC2 of programming, but can she really trust the corporation?

"The BBC might say that it simply wishes to see its influence retained in developing communication's sectors - rather than being fossilised in analogue - but in a world of four episodes of Eastenders each week, it is difficult not to interpret the BBC's digital plans as the corporation indulging in yet another blatant example of commercially motivated, license-payer subsidised, broadcast imperialism."

BBC1 is seen as paying a crucial part in the demise of its commercial rival ITV, which is losing audience share and advertising revenues hand over fist. The BBC is being criticised for broadcasting more content with more mass-market appeal, a job that has traditionally been left to ITV.

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