BBC to start commercial channel in U.S.

December 09, 1997|By Lawrie Mifflin | Lawrie Mifflin,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- British Broadcasting Corporation, widely recognized for the quality of its television programs and news reporting, will start up a commercially supported cable channel in the United States early next year to bring its dramas, comedies, documentaries and World News service directly into American homes for the first time.

The channel, to be called BBC America, is expected to be marketed to cable companies by Discovery Communications Inc. of Bethesda as part of a larger joint venture between the two companies. BBC America will be financed by income from the joint venture, not by the license fees collected from television households that underwrite the broadcaster in Britain. But the channel will be wholly owned by the BBC, and the programming will be exclusively its own.

Along with daily news broadcasts, which the BBC hopes will lead to its own all-news channel in the United States, BBC America will offer classic dramas of the type seen on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater," as well as contemporary shows now seen on BBC1 and BBC2 in Britain.

"England's booming now, culturally as well as in other ways," said Paul Lee, BBC's newly appointed general manager, who will move to Bethesda, to offices adjacent to Discovery's. "And the best stuff being produced is very fresh, not backward-looking at all, and reflects the buzz of England right now. We'd love to create a cult audience for that in the States."

Discovery is expected to get first crack at future nonfiction programming made by the BBC, and money made from the joint venture between the BBC and Discovery will be plowed back into the joint venture's co-productions. Both public television and A&E will lose some BBC programs, although some multiyear contracts are still in place.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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