Michael Jackson, the new chief executive of Channel 4 and former director of television and controller of BBC 1, made the comments as Channel 4 was showing him off to the press at its London headquarters.
Mr Jackson, who will take over from Michael Grade on 1 June, told journalists: "One of the areas that BBC TV is weak in is talking to women as opposed to men, talking to young people and talking to people outside the South-east of England."
He contrasted this with what he thought were Channel 4's strengths: "They're to do with the relationship with an audience that trusts Channel 4 which knows that the channel is on its side."
A BBC spokesman later said that he was puzzled by Mr Jackson's comments.
He added: "BBC 1 has the most balanced audience of any British broadcaster. BBC2, having trounced Channel 4 over the last three years is now seeking to reinforce its strengths by appealing more to women and young people."
But the lobbying group Women in Film and Television welcomed Mr Jackson's comments. "We're delighted that at his maiden press conference he has recognised the importance of a commitment to women as an audience and we look forward to an increased profile for women on all channels," a spokeswoman said.
"It is not that there are never any programmes about women or about life north of Watford," said Tessa Perkins, principal lecturer in media at Sheffield Hallam University. "It is the fact that the way they are dealt with is as if they are a departure from the normal, male, southern world."
She added: "Channel 4 targets niche audiences directly, it is part of its remit. The BBC thinks of niche audiences not in terms of women, youth or regions, but in terms of the Clothes Show, the Food and Drink Programme or Gardener's World. Minorities are more like hobbyists."
Stephen Barnett, senior lecturer in communications at the University of Westminster, said that the BBC has its own research which confirms Mr Jackson's comments.
"It is perceived by the young as too middle-aged and by those in the regions as too London biased. Although I would argue that few see it as too male," Mr Barnett said. "The BBC has been aware of this for some time. And it is trying to change."
Mr Jackson also hinted strongly that Channel 4 will be less dependent on shows from the United states like Friends and ER than under his predecessor. Last year, Channel 4 bid pounds 60m against Channel 5 and BSkyB in order to keep Friends and ER until 2000.
The new chief executive repeatedly emphasised the need for Channel 4 to help British programme makers and declared there would no bidding wars for American shows.
"There is a price over which it would be foolish to pay for a programme that you don't control and isn't feeding back into British production, Mr Jackson said. "At the end of the day, the channel will be remembered for what it puts back into British production."
tMarcus Plantin, ITV's network chief, ended months of speculation last night by announcing that he is to step down from his job later this year.
Mr Plantin has controlled scheduling at ITV for the last five years, but the big broadcasters who make up ITV have recently been looking for a new chief executive who will turn ITV into a limited company rather than the centre of a loose federation.Reuse content