The new services would be run jointly with other commercial partners and could include a children's channel, a news channel and a documentary channel. But they will only be available to homes with a satellite dish - they will be broadcast from a new Astra satellite, to be launched next year.
The documentary channel would air vintage BBC series such as Civilisation and The Ascent of Man as well as strands like Forty Minutes, Timewatch and natural history programmes. The children's channel would air the best of the BBC's widely-regarded children's output as well as films.
The corporation already has a 15 per cent stake in UK Gold, a light entertainment and comedy channel which offers viewers a round-the- clock diet of veteran BBC light entertainment and comedy such as EastEnders, Dr Who, and The Two Ronnies. It was set up with Thames Television after Thames lost its London weekday ITV franchise last year.
The success of UK Gold, quickly gaining a 3 per cent share of viewing in satellite homes, has spurred on BBC Enterprises, the corporation's commercial wing, in its desire to exploit the BBC's unrivalled and lucrative archive of programming. There is more money to be made in starting entire channels than in selling individual programmes.