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BBC rejects call to turn digital channels more mainstream

LONDON – The BBC's board of governors does not agree that BBC Three and BBC Four should become 'more mainstream' to increase their reach and value for money, as recommended by an independent review into the BBC digital services earlier this year.

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The governors agreed that BBC Three and BBC four must increase their reach, but not at the expense of making them "mainstream".

The BBC governors were responding to the Gardam and the Barwise reports.

They called for several measures to be introduced to value BBC's services not just cost-per-viewer-per-hour. These include impact, quality, reach and value for money.

Michael Grade, chairman of the BBC, said: "The board agrees that improved reach is a key ambition but so too is quality, innovation and new programming that improves programming choice to licence payers."

The Barwise report, an independent government review into the BBC's digital TV channels BBC Three and BBC Four, claimed the channels were not value for money because they had poor viewing figures.

The report, led by marketing professor Patrick Barwise, revealed that although all the channels have largely met their remits they have had limited impact in the crowded digital marketplace.

In response, the governors have outlined a range of service licences to be drafted in 2005 to set out remits, budgets and performance targets and said they will work closely with Ofcom to measure market impact, as recommended by both Barwise and Gardam.

The Gardam review, looking at digital radio stations 1Xtra, 6Music, BBC7, BBC Asian Network and Five Live Sports Extra as part of the ongoing Charter Renewal process, said the services went "above and beyond" the conditions laid down by the secretary of state. There were no major recommendations by the BBC governors.

The review, led by Tim Gardam, the former director of television and director of programmes at Channel 4, examined the channels' impact on the wider radio market.

Gardam praised the BBC for the distinctiveness of its channels from the services offered by the commercial radio market.

Jenny Abramsky, director of radio and music, said: "These are still early days for our digital radio services, but I am pleased that the report acknowledges that they have already established their quality and distinctiveness."

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