BBC Tuning Up for Airwave Revolution; Jenny Abramsky, the BBC's Head of Radio and Music, Talks to Terry Grimley about the Corporation's Plans for Taking Broadcasting into the Digital Age

The Birmingham Post (England), November 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

BBC Tuning Up for Airwave Revolution; Jenny Abramsky, the BBC's Head of Radio and Music, Talks to Terry Grimley about the Corporation's Plans for Taking Broadcasting into the Digital Age


Byline: Terry Grimley

So what was the BBC's head of radio and music, Jenny Abramsky, doing talking about television at Pebble Mill earlier this week?

The one-time World at One editor was blazing a trail as a member of the BBC's executive committee with the first of a series of staff briefings being held around the country to focus minds on the corporation's forthcoming digital revolution.

The BBC has now received Government approval for eight of its nine proposed new digital services - five on radio and three on television - while being sent back to the drawing board on just one, its BBC3 TV channel for young people.

'This has been the start of what's going to be a roadshow going round the UK, briefing the staff on what our role is in terms of digital, what the Government is expecting of the BBC as a public service broadcaster,' explained Abramsky.

'We will have a similar role to the one we have had with analogue - to be innovative and educative, to comment and inform. What digital offers that's different will be the ability to interact with our audience in ways we never have before.

'We also have a really important role to play in ensuring that British production thrives and the digital world doesn't become dominated by acquisitions, in particular from North America.'

A good example of that will be the two children's TV channels. The pre-school channel will be set a threshold of 90 per cent of its material coming from Britain or Europe, with a corresponding figure of 75 per cent for the 6-16 age group.

'The children's channels are very, very important in many ways,' Abramsky said. 'Winning permission to do them was the most important battle we fought. We won because we were able to demonstrate they were going to be distinctive.

'If you look at the vast majority of children's programming on cable and satellite they are full of American cartoons, but our services are going to be dominated by British and European productions.'

The older children's service will include a live interactive magazine programme three times a day, using new technologies - in particular this age group's enthusiasm for text-messaging on their mobile phones - to build on the participatory traditions of programmes like Blue Peter.

For those of an older persuasion, the intellectual climes of the new BBC4 may hold a great attraction. But isn't there a danger that the digital revolution will lead to a stream of ghettoes, reducing the mixed programming and possibility of chance discovery essential to what some see as the golden age of broadcasting?

Jenny Abramsky rejects this fear: 'At the same time as it is launching BBC4, the BBC has made an absolute commitment not to reduce the arts and music on BBC1 and BBC2.

'But with BBC4 we can do so much more. For instance, we will be broadcasting far more from the Proms. At the moment we televise about eight, but there are 73 Prom concerts a year. We will also be doing a nightly global news programme, but that will not mean there will be any less international news on BBC1.

'There's going to be some cutting-edge drama and comedy, and quite a lot of programmes about ideas. There is scope for partnerships with arts organisations and there will be world cinema on there. …

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