Newspaper group sets up cable TV base: 'Daily Mail' group takes over the former headquarters of Channel 4. Maggie Brown reports

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The Independent Online
ASSOCIATED Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail and London's Evening Standard, has taken over the former Channel 4 headquarters in London as part of its drive to diversify into television.

The company is using the building, vacated in July, as the base for its new Channel One cable television station, which launches to 300,000 London homes at the end of November.

It has plans for services in five other areas: Birmingham, the North-west, North-east, Bristol and the south coast. Associated has devoted pounds 40m to the venture for a three- to four-year development programme.

Julian Aston, the managing director, said yesterday he had recruited about half of the 100-strong editorial team required for the 24-hour services, which will be 'rolling news and information, an electronic newspaper'.

He said the material would range from serious news to the light and flippant: 'It will be popular journalism, not tabloid.' It would 'contain news you can use: if we are doing a piece on consumer's choices we would want it to be useful'.

One strength will be its access to the newspapers' libraries. It aims to use journalists from the two papers as specialist commentators, and members of the public will be equipped with video cameras to provide eyewitness footage. Associated, which has lobbied for the relaxation of restrictions preventing newspapers buying ITV companies, had an unhappy experience four years ago when it set up New Era, a production company, to supply programmes to the former British Satellite Broadcasting. This was taken over by Sky, dominated by Rupert Murdoch. Associated has now decided to compete via cable rather than Astra-delivered direct-to-home satellite services, since this would inevitably involve an association with Sky.

'We feel that cable will accelerate and start to work,' Mr Aston said. Associated won the contract last year to supply the Channel One news service to Interconnect, a group of five cable operators with licences covering Greater London: the area includes Windsor and Bromley. The service aims to tap a lucrative advertising market.

Nick Kane, group managing director of Videotron, London's largest cable operator, speaking at the launch of new business services which connect directly to desktop computers, said that 'many press groups' were examining ways of setting up services because they had the data bases on which to draw. He said that in five years there could be 1,000 channels to fill and that possession of saleable information, which newspapers had in abundance, would be a critical asset.