BBC Parliament channel to go Olympic

The BBC Parliament channel is to drop its normal programming in August, when the House is in recess, to make way for in-depth coverage from the Beijing Olympics. The move may revive debate over whether the BBC should have a dedicated sports channel.

According to Guardian Unlimited, the BBC said that using the channel for Olympics coverage would make the best use of its capacity during a busy sports period. BBC Parliament has previously filled its summer schedule with repeats of big political and state events such as coverage of old general elections and last year Princess Diana’s funeral, to mark the 10th anniversary of her death.

The BBC is due to officially unveil its Olympic coverage plans next month, but the event is expected to dominate the main BBC outlets including BBC1, BBC2 and BBC Radio 5 Live.

However, coverage is not expected to leak on to BBC3 or BBC4.

The BBC will launch a number of specialised Olympic “red button” interactive streams, which it has previously used during major sporting events including the 2004 Athens Olympics.

These interactive services will be broadcast on some of the DTT spectrum normally used by BBC Parliament.

The move to commandeer BBC Parliament on Freeview is because of the limited amount of spare spectrum. The channel will continue a normal service on the Sky satellite TV and Virgin Media cable TV services where there is more spectrum capacity.

BBC management had to ask the BBC Trust for permission to change BBC Parliament’s content for the Olympics.

But the Trust added that if any of the UK’s parliaments or assemblies were reinstated during the Olympics the normal BBC Parliament service should be resumed.

The BBC dropped all plans for a dedicated sports channel and executives have maintained since that they have no intention of reviving the idea. But as the corporation continues to battle to retain broadcasting rights for major events and with the London Olympics looming, the BBC is coming under increased pressure from sports organisers to up-grade and increase its coverage. Last week, golf officials complained that this year’s Open golf championship, at which the BBC is host broadcaster, is the sole 2008 major which is not being transmitted in High Definition.

Obtain an internationally recognised press card – by joining the SJA and AIPS, serving professional sports journalists: click here for details