BBC Prime

BBC Prime
Launched 30 January 1995 (1995-01-30)
Closed 11 November 2009 (2009-11-11)
Owned by BBC
Picture format 576i (4:3/16:9 SDTV)
Slogan Great British Entertainment
Country UK
Broadcast area Europe, the Middle East
Replaced BBC World Service Television
Replaced by BBC 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.


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.

Programmes aired on CBBC Prime/CBeebies

CBeebies and CBBC preschool programmes

CBBC programmes


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.


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]


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