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US broadcaster PBS bids for slice of BBC's market

For more than 40 years the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) – America's equivalent of the BBC – has provided the nation's viewers with a "gold standard" of public service television.

Now the BBC faces a challenge from its US cousin as it launches PBS UK, an "upmarket" channel devoted to US history, science and arts, on BSkyB and Virgin Media.

Supported by Federal government funding and private donations, the not-for-profit PBS network is watched by more than 124 million US viewers. Inspired by the BBC, PBS was created in 1970 to ensure diversity in an environment dominated by commercial television networks.

As well as bringing Sesame Street to the screen, PBS produces the acclaimed nightly current affairs show NewsHour and Frontline, an award-winning documentary series that has conducted controversial investigations into American foreign policy. Often accused of "liberal bias" by Republicans, PBS is fighting calls to cut the $430m budget it shares with the US's National Public Radio service.

PBS UK launches on BSkyB and Virgin Media on 1 November with Prohibition, a three-part series about the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcohol. The channel is hoping to capitalise on budget cuts, announced last week that will mean less current affairs on BBC2 and reduced funding for BBC4.

Richard Kingsbury, PBS UK's general manager, said: "Viewers are used to seeing US drama and comedy but... there are high quality factual programmes coming out of the US that criticise the Government."

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