BBC steps up Oz commitment

Pubcaster will offer two new channels on Foxtel

SYDNEY -- BBC Worldwide said Wednesday that it will launch two branded channels on Australia's Foxtel pay TV platform in 2009.

The company also said it has purchased the 80% of entertainment channel UKTV that it did not already own from partners Foxtel and FremantleMedia.

Next year, Foxtel will host factual channel BBC Knowledge and preschool service CBeebies. Another channel, BBCHD, launched Sunday as part of Foxtel's new high-definition package of channels, joining BBC World and UKTV, which have aired here for more than a decade.

The channel offering is part of the British broadcasting giant's strategy to expand all of its business in key markets.

Total ownership of UKTV, one of Foxtel's most popular channels, signals the BBC's desire to "have skin in the game," Darren Childs, BBC Worldwide Channels' managing director said in an interview.

The announcement tops a busy 18 months of acquisitions and launches down under for BBCW, which started with the purchase of a 25% stake in local production company Freehand, followed by the acquisition of Lonely Planet, the launch of two magazines -- "Top Gear Australia" and "BBC Australian Good Food" -- and a deal with broadcaster SBS to make an Australian version of "Top Gear."

"Two years ago it seemed crazy that we had such a small stake in such an important market," Childs said. He did not rule out further channel launches.

Childs said that BBCW will continue licensing programs to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., its biggest broadcast partner to date here, but the BBC channels will now likely get the pick of the material.

"There's no better place for a BBC program than within a BBC-branded environment," he said.

The channels will all be programmed and managed by a local team headed by UKTV channel manager Tony Iffland.