BBC boosts budget

Increase to stanch slippage of flagship channel

LONDON — The BBC is boosting its budget by an extra £58 million ($87 million) this year, cash that will notably provide for another hour of “Walking With Dinosaurs” at Christmas.

The increase — taken from efficiency savings — is particularly geared to shoring up the ratings slide of flagship channel BBC1. Besides “Dinosaurs,” adaptations of “Lorna Doone” and “Love in a Cold Climate” have been commissioned.

At a presentation of the pubcaster’s annual report, BBC director general Greg Dyke intimated there would be a hefty boost to BBC1’s funding next year.

No news cutbacks

Although the emphasis will be on family sitcoms and new dramas, BBC chairman Christopher Bland rejected reports that BBC1’s current affairs programming would be cut back or bumped to BBC2. BBC1’s 9 p.m. newscast, however, may be moved to 10 p.m. to open up primetime.

“Everything is being discussed,” Bland said, adding that the rethink was necessary because multichannel TV is changing British viewing habits.

That was in keeping with BBC director of television Mark Thompson’s recent comments about restructuring the corporation’s output from a traditional, mixed sked to something more “focused and distinct.”

This is interpreted by some to mean the BBC’s channels could become genre-based, something Thompson downplayed.

Scrutiny vowed

But the U.K. government said Wednesday that any big changes or new services will come under increased scrutiny. That could impact the BBC’s plans to create a children’s channel, vehemently opposed by the commercial kids TV industry.

The government said it would look at whether new initiatives were within the BBC’s public service mandate, how they would affect the market and whether there had been proper public consultation.

The BBC’s income from license fees was $3.5 billion last year. An additional $771 million came from BBC Worldwide, the commercial division. BBC1’s share of the pot was more than 1.2 billion.

The new “Walking With Dinosaurs,” again a co-production with Discovery, will consist of two half-hours called “The Ballad of Big Al,” based on the life and times of an allosaurus found in Wyoming.

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