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BBC mulls fee, privatization to pay for digital expansion

Resources, Worldwide could be sold, viewers taxed

LONDON — The U.K. government reportedly is planning to accept proposals for a digital BBC license fee and for the privatization of some corporation assets, changes intended to help fund the pubcaster’s digital expansion.

A report to be released Thursday is expected to recommend that digital viewers pay $30 more than the current $160 annual tax, and will favor the selling off of most of BBC Resources, the corporation’s craft division, and 49% of BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm.

Plan support

The report, prepared by a committee headed by economist Gavyn Davies, is believed to have the backing of Chris Smith, culture secretary.

The BBC is pursuing ways to generate more money for its digital ventures. The corporation is seeking to up the quality of family-oriented BBC Choice and educational channel BBC Knowledge. There are also plans to launch a kids channel.

A digital license fee for the BBC is fiercely opposed by other broadcasters, who fear it will impede audience generation for pay digital TV, impacting satcaster BSkyB’s SkyDigital and ONdigital’s platforms, and services like Channel 4’s Film Four channel.

Tax advantage

These companies argue that a large digital tax is an unfair boon to the BBC given that all British viewers eventually will make the switch to digital, perhaps as soon as 2006. A source, however, told Daily Variety that a “mechanism” will be proposed to counterbalance a rise in the cost of a license.

Privatization undoubtedly would ruffle the feathers of the 4,000 staff of BBC Resources, who would consider a sell-off to be the thin edge of the wedge for the unit’s future.

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