BBC spreads its worldwide net

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The Independent Online
The BBC will take another leap towards becoming a global commercial media group on Tuesday when it launches a news service on the Internet, a week before its 24-hour rolling news channel, to be shown on cable and BBC1 late at night, begins.

The new services follow yesterday's launch of pay-TV channels by Flextech that make commercial use of the BBC's TV programme library for the first time. The BBC plans similar services in the US.

The new developments are all part of the BBC's strategy to transform itself from public service broadcaster to a digital multimedia company with a global reach, able to take on commercial competitors, including CNN and News Corp. They are also part of a belated campaign to leverage the brand internationally.

"We're at the starting blocks of changing the public service tradition in the BBC for a new age, and there's lots more to come," said Tony Hall, chief executive of BBC News. He said the BBC can continue to perform a public service role and develop a separate position as a commercial player. BBC News Online, the Internet service, is an example of this dual approach.

Analysts agree. "The BBC's Internet service is about reaching new audiences with quality TV," said Ramona Liberoff, executive consultant at KPMG's information, communications and entertainment group. She said it could use that reputation to sell its other programmes on a commercial basis.

Both the Internet service and rolling news are funded out of licence fee payments and will be available worldwide free-of-charge. Mr Hall said he plans to use half the 30 per cent savings targeted by the BBC over the next five years, which included job cuts, to continue funding News 24 and BBC News Online.

The services will carry no advertising, but Hall said other Internet services, developed by the BBC's commercial arm, will carry advertising. It will also offer an Internet version of Top Gear, its TV programme about cars, but under a "Beeb" brandname.

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