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BBC Prime

BBC Prime
Launched30 January 1995; 24 years ago (1995-01-30)
Closed11 November 2009; 9 years ago (2009-11-11)
Owned byBBC
Picture format576i (4:3/16:9 SDTV)
SloganGreat British Entertainment
Broadcast areaEurope, the Middle East
ReplacedBBC World Service Television
Replaced byBBC Entertainment
(BBC Entertainment)

BBC Prime was the BBC's general entertainment TV channel in Europe and the Middle East from 30 January 1995 until 11 November 2009, when it was replaced by BBC Entertainment.

1997 - 2006.


BBC Prime was launched at 19:00 GMT on Thursday, 26 January 1995 when the former BBC World Service Television was split into two separate television stations:

  • BBC World: a 24-hour English free-to-air terrestrial international news channel such as news bulletin, information, business and financial, news magazine and current affairs programmes. Now known as BBC World News.
  • BBC Prime: a 24-hour English subscription lifestyle, variety and entertainment channel such: variety, culture, leisure, lifestyle, art and light entertainment programmes. Now known as BBC Entertainment.


The channel broadcast drama, comedy and lifestyle programmes which it repeated on a monthly basis. Once, it allocated six hours per day to educational programmes from BBC Learning (shown in the European small hours); this practice was abandoned in August 2006 "with the intention of improving the relevance and appeal of the channel to the widest audience".[1] It also included a special children's strand, using the CBBC brand and idents, by the name of CBBC on BBC Prime, or CBBC Prime.

When it first launched, BBC Prime also carried programming from the former ITV company Thames Television, since BBC Worldwide had a joint venture with Thames's parent company, Pearson and Cox Communications, known as European Channel Management.[2] However, this was dissolved in 1998.[3] Owing to rights issues, much of the programming on BBC Prime was from the Corporation's archive.


The channel's emphasis on archive programming caused considerable annoyance to many British expatriate viewers, who had much preferred the mix of BBC One and Two previously offered by BBC TV Europe and BBC World Service Television. However, the BBC has defended the inclusion of older programmes in the schedule, on the grounds that "for the majority of our viewers, this is the first chance to see these programmes, and often the only way to view them".[4] Consequently, many people in mainland Europe bought viewing cards to receive full broadcasts of BBC One and Two from the UK, when they became available on satellite in 1998. This prompted GBC in Gibraltar to end terrestrial retransmission of BBC Prime in 1999. Even after the BBC switched to broadcasting unencrypted on a satellite with a much weaker signal, many people in Spain and elsewhere could still receive these signals, particularly those who already had large satellite dishes.


Unlike the BBC's domestic channels, and some of their foreign channels paid for by the UK Foreign Office, BBC Prime was funded by subscription available either as part of a satellite package or as a stand-alone channel. It was also funded by adverts placed on the channel in breaks, and because of this, it was not available in the UK. Much of BBC Prime's programming was available to watch through BBC One, Two or the UKTV network, part owned by the BBC and showing archive programming.


When BBC Prime launched, its ident was consisted of 5 different diamonds shining, at first by each other, and then all of them, in a black background, with the BBC Prime logo placed in the bottom right corner. The logo at the time had the BBC logo, with "Prime" written in all capitals below in the Trajan Bold font. The ident had another version which had a quite jazz-styled music.

On 4 October 1997, the BBC went on a major rebrand, and BBC Prime was also affected by it. The logo now had the BBC blocks, with "Prime" in all capitals in the Gill Sans font next to it. The idents start with epileptic water scenes with full of colours, before settling on the main part of the ident, which features the water in a blue to orange gradient with ripples, and 2 marbles reflected and inverted by each other, with the logo being placed in the bottom.

In December 2000, BBC Prime rebranded again. The idents now featured cartoon draws of famous UK sights, like the Big Ben, the Tower Bridge or the Stonehenge, shooting fireworks, before the looped, 15-second long sequence with exploding firework animations came on. The idents had a xylophone-and-trumpet music, with firework sounds playing in the background.

BBC Prime's final rebrand took place in August 2006, when BBC Learning was discontinued and the channel's gradual replacement started. The logo featured the 1997 logo being placed inside a turquoise circle. The idents consisted of differently coloured circles as people who do different situations, like going on a rollercoaster, jumping and swimming in the pool, or the grass being clipped with a lawnrower. These idents were used until BBC Prime was completely replaced by BBC Entertainment on 11 November 2009.


The channel was available in many areas through satellite and cable television

In order to cater to a wider audience, who do not have English their first language, BBC Prime carried subtitles in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Czech, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, Italian, Hebrew and Serbian. The Asian service also had subtitles in Chinese, Thai, and Korean.

A similar channel, called BBC Japan, launched in Japan on 1 December 2004, but ceased broadcasting on 30 April 2006 owing to problems with its local distributor.


In September 2006 it was announced that the BBC Prime brand was to be phased out and replaced by BBC Entertainment, one of a number of new international channels planned by BBC Worldwide.[6]

The process began with the Asian services, which switched on the 6 October 2006, followed by the South African service on the 1 September 2008.[7] BBC Prime was completely replaced by BBC Entertainment on 11 November 2009.[8]


  1. ^ BBC Prime - faqs Why has BBC LEARNING ended?[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ From us to them; How the BBC became a world player, The Independent, 11 October 1997
  3. ^ BBC to buy out int'l partners, Variety, March 16, 1998
  4. ^ BBC Prime - faqs What is the reason for including older programmes in the schedule?[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Handbook - Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, Secretariat, Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, 1997, page 59
  6. ^ Clarke, Steve (7 September 2006). "BBC Worldwide bows new channels". Variety. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  7. ^ "Four BBC Worldwide channels for DStv". 11 June 2008. Retrieved 9 July 2008.
  8. ^ "BBC Prime rebranded as BBC Entertainment". Archived from the original on 26 September 2009. Retrieved 4 November 2009.

External links