BBC extends hand to fellow pubcasters

But iPlayer, other fee protections rebuffed by Channel 4

LONDON -- The BBC on Thursday outlined a series of technology investments and sharing initiatives that it said would benefit its fellow public-service broadcasters to the tune of "at least" 120 million pounds ($179.6 million) a year, in a bid to protect its 3.5 billion pounds-a-year ($5.2 billion) license fee settlement.

The pubcaster, under pressure to allow some of its annual funding to be used to bail out struggling government-owned broadcaster Channel 4, is looking for alternative ways to offer support without losing control of the license fee.

Director general Mark Thompson said the pubcaster would invest in research to launch a set-top box that would allow viewers to watch broadband content on their televisions, and would open that platform to Channel 4, ITV and Five.

He also proposed allowing other broadcasters to share the BBC's broadband TV iPlayer platform and share digital production technology and regional production costs.

Together, Thompson said the initiatives could account for more than 120 million pounds, according to models put together by Deloitte Consulting.

"These are not token options," he told reporters during a news conference in the boardroom of BBC headquarters in London. "We think these ideas are potentially something quite profound, and I would encourage other broadcasters to look at these offers."

ITV and Five broadly welcomed the suggestions, saying they would examine the details further, but Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan has rebuffed the suggestions.

"We don't believe these proposals offer any tangible financial benefit for Channel 4," he said.

Although open to cooperation with BBC Worldwide that could be worth as much as 10 million pounds ($15 million) a year for Channel 4, Duncan said the BBC's valuations are "inaccurate."

Channel 4 is calling for financial support of about 150 million pounds ($225 million) a year beginning in 2010. Media regulator Ofcom is expected to announce its plans to support and fund public-service broadcasting in the new year.
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