Select Committee on Broadcasting Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Telewest, General Cable and Cable & Wireless Communications


  The Parliamentary Channel Ltd was created in 1992 by the UK Cable Industry to supply cable exclusive coverage to its customers of the proceedings of the House of Commons.

  The founding principle of the service was to provide uninterrupted, live coverage of Parliament. The service was not created by the cable operators as a money making venture; hence its "not for profit" status. The Parliamentary Channel has a public service role of making Parliament and its workings accessible to the general public. By relying on its cable shareholders for distribution and financial support, the channel has in part achieved its mandate, given the existing level of coverage of cable networks in the UK.

  Further background is provided in the management briefing paper attached.


  In the Autumn of 1997 the Parliamentary Channel members realised that continued commercial pressure, the advent of digital, and possible competition from other sources meant a strategic review of the aims and goals of the channel was needed.

  In the debates that followed, a majority of the members agreed that certain principles were desirable:

    —  A commitment to the continuing provision of Parliamentary coverage to cable customers.

    —  Provision of a service that was valuable and accessible.

    —  Use of the channel to extend initiatives in the area of education.

    —  Preparation of the channel for digital and widening of the scope of the service to include enhanced and interactive services.

  The shareholders in the Channel recognised that to accomplish these goals higher levels of investment would be needed. Partners and possible channel providers were approached to test the interest in working with the cable industry to ensure the future and development of the Parliamentary Channel. At the time of continuing uncertainty during these debates, Flextech resigned from their contract to manage the Channel and subsequently extended their notice to be effective from the Parliamentary summer recess. Consequently, alternatives to operating the channel needed to be reviewed. Out of the three programmers approached by The Parliamentary Channel, a final decision was made to work with the BBC on the development of Parliamentary coverage.


  Any proposal was tested against the following criteria:

    —  History of programming and distribution excellence.

    —  Maintenance of the core programming obligations and development of the service.

    —  Ability to work with the cable industry to develop educational and other ancillary opportunities.

    —  Willingness to make a long term commitment in which commercial advantage was not prime.

    —  Stability in provision of service.

  The BBC proposal was accepted on the basis that the BBC:

    —  are best placed to continue and further the programming obligations of the Parliamentary Channel;

    —  has the experience and ability to develop the service with a public service focus;

    —  can expand the coverage of the channel to wider audience; and

    —  are a pre-eminent publishers of educational content in the UK.


  The majority of the cable industry is committed to contracting and carrying a BBC Parliamentary Service this Autumn. The cable industry's decision fulfils its commitment to providing its customers with a Parliamentary television service and ensures the channel's continued growth and development. Additionally, the cable industry has guaranteed cable's continued involvement in the future of the service through educational and other initiatives with the BBC.

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Prepared 4 November 1998