Sky News to take on BBC with rival to Newsnight

Share this article

SKY News is understood to be planning a programme to challenge BBC2's Newsnight in the battle for late-night audiences.

The broadcaster has approached a number of journalists and asked them if they would be prepared to work with the satellite broadcaster on a new late-night news show.

Sky News says it is not yet in a position to announce any new programme but the channel's output is being overhauled in the run-up to the launch of the autumn schedules.

The programme would be the first challenger to Newsnight, which has established a reputation for being one of the most serious and probing news programmes on British TV, anchored by Jeremy Paxman and Kirsty Wark.

A new late-night show could be fronted by an existing Sky News presenter such as Jeremy Thompson or Kay Burley, although other journalists have also been approached.

A Sky version of Newsnight would also call into question the existence of the BBC Scotland opt-out north of the Border, Newsnight Scotland, which is on air from 11pm until 11.20pm and has received patchy reviews.

Although it has had some notable successes, such as its nightly coverage of the Fraser Inquiry into the new Scottish Parliament building, London-based BBC staff are known to dislike their tartan counterpart.

Paxman himself said of the plan: "It strikes me as a pretty damn fool idea." There have also been suggestions that London deliberately tries to make the 'junction' where the Scottish programme opts out as difficult as possible - for example, by playing pre-recorded packages at awkward times around the opt-out or letting live pieces run too long.

The advent of any new late-night show will heighten the Anglo-Scottish rivalry within the BBC. A BBC Scotland insider said: "I don't think it will hurt us very much. It might force our colleagues down south to shake up their ideas a bit. We actually get a better share of the audience than they do. If Sky tried a Scottish news opt-out then it would become very interesting indeed."

From 10.30pm to 11pm, Newsnight has a 4.8% share of the Scottish audience, a share which rises to 5.3% after 11pm when the Scottish programme begins, implying that viewers north of the Border prefer locally produced fare.

Sky News is undergoing a revamp this year which will see veteran broadcaster Eamonn Holmes present a new morning show and journalist Jeremy Thompson anchor a new 7pm programme which will be a direct challenge to Channel 4 News, presented by Jon Snow.

The move to shake up the channel comes in the wake of a revamp of its bitter rival BBC News 24, which dramatically changed its colour schemes and style last year. The change at the BBC was ironically aimed at making it more like Sky, whose style is much admired - albeit grudgingly - by BBC staff and executives.

The spread of multi-channel TV to an increasing number of homes - 62% of UK homes now have digital television - means that Sky and the BBC are competing head-to-head in more living rooms. Although Sky News was for many years the better watched in homes which had satellite, cable and Freeview, the BBC has pulled level and the two channels now compete for top place.

A BBC spokesman said: "Choice for the viewer is a good thing and we will welcome any challenge when it arrives."

A Sky News spokesman said: "We are not in a position to announce anything at this stage. Whether any new programme will be seen as an equivalent to Newsnight will really be up to viewers to judge. I can't really say any more than that."