BBC flush with coin, high ratings

Flagship most watched channel in U.K. for first time since '50s

LONDON — The growing power of the BBC has been underlined in its annual report, out Wedneday, which revealed that an extra $378 million — the biggest ever hike — was invested in new programs last year.

The hike was the result of internal cost cutting, increased commercial income — $148.4 million against $97.4 million last year — and greater licence fee revenues.

The pubcaster’s new chairman Gavyn Davies said that the 12 months to April 2002 had been “a very good year for the BBC” but stressed there was still much to be done.

Flagship station BBC1 became the most watched channel in the U.K. for the first time since the 1950s — a position it has maintained during this year, claimed the pubcaster.

Davies praised the BBC’s services for “stretching the imagination and expanding the horizons” of audiences.

Program highlights included natural history blockbuster “The Blue Planet,” history docu “A History of Britain,” and dramas “The Way We Live Now” and “Perfect Strangers.”

However, the report reflected concerns that what some critics regard as the BBC’s rampant commercialism are undermining standards.

The flagship news show, BBC1’s “Ten O’Clock News,” was singled out by the governors, the pubcaster’s in- house regulators, for a highly embarrassing libel claim resulting from its coverage of the Sept.11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and urged producers to “check material thoroughly.”

The veteran current affairs show, “Question Time,” was accused of “errors in the tone and timing” in a special edition to discuss Sept. 11 that aired “anti-American views” by members of the audience.

The governors blasted another two shows aired on BBC1, regularly accused by rivals of sacrificing quality in the drive for ratings. They were “The Joy of Text” theme night, based on cell phone text messaging, and entertainment vehicle, “Celebrity Sleepover.”

Davies conceded that the BBC needed to improve areas of the schedules and become more “consistent.”

“Arts and political programmes,” he said, “are two areas where the BBC faces a similar challenge; to engage a broader audience while still providing programmes for enthusiasts. Quality and distinctiveness in all of our output is our ultimate goal.”

Director-general Greg Dyke praised “the richer mix of programs” on BBC1, sister channel BBC2 for its increased audience share and the “successful launch” of three new digital channels.

There was also good news from the pubcaster’s commercial wing, BBC Worldwide, as profits grew by 23% to $60.2 million

Program exports were up by 15% to $240.8 million despite the flat market helping to win the outfit a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

Said Worldwide CEO Rupert Gavin: “These remarkable results show consistent growth against a very challenging market and mark us out as one of the U.K.’s best-performing media companies.”

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