Flextech plans Jane Austen centrepiece

Flextech, the cable and satellite television company, yesterday unveiled some of the programmes it plans to screen in its new joint venture with the BBC.

The centrepiece will be a Jane Austen week before Christmas this year, aimed at marking Flextech as a heritage drama programmer.

Flextech plans to provide three new pay-TV satellite channels by Christmas and to revamp its existing UK Gold channel, offering classic comedy such as Only Fools and Horses from the BBC archives.

The collection of Jane Austen films and dramas will be shown on its new Arena channel. Arena will also broadcast "Dennis Potter-style drama", according to insiders. A style channel will feature lifestyle programming like The Antiques Roadshow, and the Horizons channel will include documentaries by names such as David Attenborough.

The new UK Gold will also begin transmission by the end of the year. All four channels will be shown on analogue cable and satellite until the launch of digital television next year.

Flextech signed the pounds 200m deal with the BBC earlier this year, promising to create up to eight pay-TV channels to be broadcast on analogue and digital television. Four of these will not now launch until next year.

Under the deal, Flextech put up pounds 22m of equity and up to pounds 188m of debt, in return for getting open access to the BBC's entire programme library.

As he announced results for the six months to the end of June, Roger Luard, Flextech's group chief executive, said the company would save pounds 4m in a year by deciding not to invest any further in European Business News, the business channel. Flextech has poured pounds 9m into the channel over the last two years.

Mr Luard added that Flextech may sell its 30 per cent stake in EBN. Dow Jones, the American media group which owns the Wall Street Journal, is EBN's majority shareholder. Reports that EBN and Asia Business News, also owned by Dow Jones, would merge with CNBC have heightened uncertainty over Flextech's future involvement with EBN.

Flextech reported a pre-exceptional loss of pounds 1.7m in the first half, an improvement on the pounds 7.8m loss before exceptionals it made in the same period last year.

Mr Luard said he was "confident" Flextech was now well-placed for the rapid evolution of the television industry in the coming months and years.

Exceptional charges for the six months to the end of June related to the pounds 1.6m repositioning of the Family Channel as Challenge TV and the pounds 5m launch of the new programming strand, Trouble, aimed at 10-24 years.

However, these charges were partly offset by the pounds 5.9m credit from the disposal of Flextech's 23 per cent stake in HIT Entertainment.


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