BBC better at news but not soaps, say viewers

THE PUBLIC values the BBC for its news and current affairs more than any other programmes, it was revealed yesterday. However, despite the efforts of the departing Bianca and the rest of the EastEnders, viewers consider its soap operas to trail behind those on ITV.

Results of the BBC's internal research into how it compares with ITV were made public yesterday when, for the first time, the BBC unveiled its pounds 26.5m autumn current affairs programmes as a distinct season. After losing a succession of stars to ITV, from Ross Kemp to Des Lynam, the BBC is trying to showcase the programming which still leads its rivals.

"The BBC's commitment to current affairs is unrivalled across British television and radio," said Helen Boaden, the BBC's head of current affairs and business programmes.

"We are putting our money where our mouth is at a time when our commercial rivals are redefining current affairs, with the death of World in Action and the changes to Tonight after less than a year on air.

"Current affairs is a key difference between us and ITV, and our research is a sign that the public recognises that week after week we have the kind of programmes which take current affairs seriously."

The BBC is also well ahead in costume drama, thanks to the success of series such as Pride and Prejudice and its adaptation of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones. The BBC leads ITV by a margin of 42 percentage points in costume dramas.

More surprising is that the public still rates the BBC higher for sport than ITV, giving it a 23-point lead despite losing the rights to several leading sports to its commercial competitor. Formula 1 motor racing and the FA Cup have been with ITV for a number of years and there will be much more live football on the commercial channel this season than on the BBC.

But the BBC will be disappointed with the relatively low 17-point lead its comedy holds over ITV, which has notoriously failed to commission comedies to compete with successes such as I'm Alan Partridge or The Royle Family. ITV even gave Men Behaving Badly to the BBC after airing it for just one series.

Insiders at the BBC said yesterday they were unconcerned that one-third of the public believes ITV's soap output is better. One source said the public was voting for the "quantity of soaps, not the quality" on ITV.

The highlight of the BBC's current affairs output this autumn is The Major Years, a series of interviews with the former prime minister and his cabinet ministers charting the behind-the-scenes battles of the last government.

There is also a series on the way immigration and race issues have been used by British politicians. It has interviews with former home secretaries who regret the police were left out of the 1968 and 1976 Race Relations Acts, and an account of the 1964 Smethwick by-election when a Conservative candidate used the slogan: "If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour."

CURRENT AFFAIRS: BBC WINNER

The BBC has a 50-point lead over ITV in current affairs, due in part to ITV having ditched World in Action in favour of the lightweight Tonight with Trevor McDonald

REAL-LIFE ACTION: ITV WINNER

Here, the BBC is probably happy to trail ITV by 22 points. ITV's success derives from shows like Police Camera Action and others which use CCTV or police footage

WILDLIFE: BBC WINNER

The BBC has a 45-point lead, despite international acclaim for ITV's long-running Survival strand. The corporation probably has Sir David Attenborough to thank for its lead

FILMS: ITV WINNER

Moving News at Ten has paid off for ITV in at least one respect and it leads the BBC by 11 points. ITV's recent season of James Bond films has been good for ratings

NEWS: BBC WINNER

A 46-point lead over ITV thanks to the size of its worldwide operation, its star reporters and for keeping its main bulletin in prime time when News at Ten was moved

SOAP OPERAS: ITV WINNER

The BBC will be disappointed that EastEnders, its highest rated show, loses out to ITV. It can only hope that ITV's greater quantity of soaps is what swayed the public

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