BBC News Channel Goes 24 Hours a Day

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The British Broadcasting Corp., fresh from its 75th birthday, entered a new era Nov. 9 with the launch of a 24-hour TV news channel in Britain aimed at competing with Sky News and CNN.

Instead of winding down in the wee hours of the morning, "Auntie," as the BBC is known, stayed up all night, providing television viewers with continuously updated broadcasts.

The BBC didn't let its hair down for the channel's 12:30 p.m. EST kickoff.

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"We're not planning any fireworks or any champagne spilling over or anything like that. It will be quiet - you turn on, and it will be there," said BBC News 24 spokeswoman Michelle Green before the launch date.

One reason for this staid approach is that only about 3 million cable-subscribing homes were able to see the launch.

That represents just half of the 6 million households reached by Sky News and CNN, and about one-seventh of Britain's 22 million TV-viewing homes.

The majority of Britons will be able to see BBC News 24 for only about four hours every morning (roughly 2 to 6 o'clock local time), when the new service fills the gap after the sign-off of BBC1, the broadcaster's flagship public channel.

The BBC plans to spend some 30 million ($51 million) on its new baby in the first year, with most of the money coming from cost cuts at the rest of the organization, including a recent shake-up at BBC News.

Based at the BBC's Television Center in west London, the newborn channel will be fed by some 100 journalists - including some hired away from Sky - at 13 newsrooms around Britain.

BBC News 24, and a twin 24-hour online service, will also rely on international news generated by its parent's massive overseas operations.

Seven of Britain's largest cable companies have agreed to carry the BBC News 24 channel, which, unlike Sky, will be offered to them for free.

But, given the channel's limited reach, neither Sky, owned by British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC, nor CNN, part of Time Warner Inc., appeared to be overly worried by their new brand-name competitor.

CNN founder Ted Turner played down the British service's impact on CNN, preferring instead to view it as a threat to his archrival, News Corp. Ltd. head Rupert Murdoch, who controls BSkyB.

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