BBC plugs into new age for television

The BBC yesterday staked its claim to a central role in the digital revolution, promising UK viewers wide-screen television, CD-quality sound and a 24- hour news channel in additional to its standard service.

The blueprint, published yesterday as "Extending Choice in the Digital Age," contains the first indications of how the public service broadcaster intends to respond to the new digital world.

"We could ignore the new technologies and let our beards grow," John Birt, the BBC's director-general, said yesterday. "That option, perhaps beguiling for some, is not sustainable."

Viewers will also be offered "extended" services at the push of a button. For instance, during an episode of EastEnders, viewers will be able to call up information on the stars and on recent plot developments.

Digital customers also will be offered additional programmes at certain hours - perhaps a viewing of Waiting for Godot, following a scheduled Bookmark programme on the playwright Samuel Beckett.

The proposed new services would be available to any viewer with a set- top box designed to unscramble digital terrestrial television signals.

The BBC intends to offer pay-TV programming, in the form of themed channels, on a subscription basis, probably in partnership with private-sector companies. Mr Birt denied this would lead to a "two-tier" BBC. "We understand the sensitivity," he said. "But the extra services would be in addition to programmes paid for by the licence fee."

The digital service is planned from 1998. Mr Birt said the switch, expected to cost as much as pounds 200m, would be financed from savings, the privatisation of the BBC's transmission services and borrowing. The licence payer would not foot the bill, he said, although there could be significant job cuts as a result of the efficiency drive.

Yesterday's announcement will give a boost to the Government's plans to introduce digital terrestrial television. The broadcasting industry has been concerned about the proposals, particularly about the cost of switching to digital. Industry insiders have questioned whether consumers would pay as much as pounds 400 for receiving equipment.

The ITV companies this week agreed in principle to launch their own digital services on terrestrial television. Channel 4 is considering its options. The race to digitise has been driven by the success of satellite and cable broadcasters. BSkyB, the satellite giant 40 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch, this week confirmed it would launch digital satellite services from the autumn of next year.

ITV to go digital, page 18 Comment, Page 19

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before