BBC digital cost double its budget, admits Birt

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The Independent Online

Only 10,000 viewers have so far signed up for the BBC's digital channels despite a recent high-profile advertising campaign, the Corporation admitted yesterday.

Only 10,000 viewers have so far signed up for the BBC's digital channels despite a recent high-profile advertising campaign, the Corporation admitted yesterday.

Although the total number of digital viewers was 1.82 million, most subscriptions had been through BSkyB Television, Sir John Birt, the BBC's Director General, told MPs.

While many viewers were watching the BBC's digital coverage through their overall subscription, only 10,000 had chosen to get a box installed on their television set at a cost of £100 to subscribe to the BBC's services only.

His admission will infuriate opponents of the BBC's calls for extra money to cope with the demands of the digital age.

Sir John, during a tough grilling by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, also disclosed that the cost of BBC News 24, the digital channel, would be £53.9m in the current financial year.

Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the select committee on Culture, Media and Sport, claimed that the cost was nearly twice that originally anticipated.

"When BBC News 24 was set up, we expected a cost closer to £30m. How can we justify the increased cost?" he said.

However, defending the need for the overall £650m increase in corporation's funding, Sir John told MPs that more people watched News 24 on cable every week than Sky News, amounting to a total of six million viewers.

Greg Dyke, incoming Director General of the BBC, told MPs that the BBC would not be able to compete with BSkyB over its sports coverage.

"The rates for sport coverage are going up beyond the BBC's means so we will have be about picking and choosing."

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