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BBC Worldwide bows new channels

Beeb launches most ambitious strategy for a decade

LONDON — BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster’s commercial arm, is launching a new bouquet of global channels in what represents the outfit’s most ambitious strategy for a decade.

The first fruits of the new initiative will see pre-school tyke web, CBeebies, and newly forged BBC Entertainment bow in India before the end of the year – and “two or three additional channels” in the U.S. by 2009.

Two new channel brands are being launched – BBC Knowledge and BBC Lifestyle, plus as high definition channel.

Apart from CBeebies, which will be free to air, the new ventures will be funded by a mix of subscription and ad coin.

Said BBC Worldwide’s managing director of global channels, Darren Childs: “Global channels is going to become a massive part of Worldwide’s growth strategy over the next three to five years. It is a good, high margin business.”

Childs would not be drawn on specifically which webs are being prepared for a U.S. launch, but provided distribution deals can be signed the aim is to have a U.S. version of CBeebies up and running alongside BBC America, plus a new HD channel and the soon-to-be launched BBC Lifestyle.

The Corp. also wants to beef up its non-linear presence in international markets, the main reason why the Beeb has dropped “TV” from its Global Channels branding.

Added Childs: “Our channels will broadcast across all media – VOD, mobile, and online as well as linear channels.”

The Indian version of CBeebies, the Corp’s first branded TV web to bow on the sub-continent, will air in dual language versions – Hindi and English.

BBC Entertainment will replace BBC Prime which will be phased out in the coming months.

Said Childs: “BBC Prime will disappear as a brand. It is something we can do better. It was too non-specific. BBC Entertainment will do what it says on the tin.

“Our aim is to make all our channels much more localized with dedicated content aimed at particular territories.

“We want to customize shows for local markets in the way that we remade ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ as ‘Dancing With The Stars’ in the U.S.”

BBC Entertainment is to be rolled out across Asia in October, with Europe following before the end of the year.

As part of the plan, regional offices are being opened for the first time in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Childs said that while the new webs will all have first-look deals with the BBC, there will be a need to acquire shows in most genres.

Quite how established global channels operators will react to the BBC’s ambitions remains to be seen.

In Blighty, commercial media combines like News International have accused the pubcaster of unfair competition as it seeks to broaden its activities across all media.

Childs, however, said there was a market demand for the new channels.

He said: “We are not launching copycat channels. Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.”

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