Media Medium
5 March 2002


Digital culture vulture

There is little point in Roly Keating concerning himself
with BBC4 viewer figures. His best option is to serve
Venus, the muse of art and eros

Roly Keating, controller of BBC4, the new arts channel, has all the credentials of a culture king, with his enthusiastic, regal Leo (August 5 1961) tempered by executive Capricorn and rounded off with planets in civilised, sophisticated air signs.

Leos hanker for the spectacular and Keating has been waiting half a lifetime for his big chance. His golden opportunity has come on his astrological mid-life crisis, as revolutionary Uranus completes its half cycle in his horoscope. This often brings a now-or-never demand when people question where they are going and desire something completely different, but so far, Keating has carried out his revolution in creativity within the existing framework of his career, without kicking against it or running off with a blonde bimbo.

His Uranus cycle measures to the end of February just a week from the BBC4 launch, a case of perfect timing. It does not complete until December, with a peak in early October, so there is plenty of time yet for this planet to show its unpredictable streak. The new controller sees BBC4 as "a powerhouse, spinning things out rather than sucking things in", but this kind of activity can spin in directions which its creator never envisaged. Provocative Uranus loves roller-coaster situations, so could Keating become an out-of-control controller?

The new digital channel has none of its creator's fire, but it performs brilliantly for the arts as an imaginative Pisces (March 2 2002) with Venus, planet of art and culture, on the horizon at 7pm, the moment of its first broadcast. These are fortunate indications, but BBC4 also has a thorn in its side. This is shown by a tough opposition of a tacky Scorpio Moon and a greedy Taurean Mars, not at all like an ideal of high culture, and always tempting it down-market. The opposition falls across the financial sectors of its horoscope, making its license-fee funding a continual source of irritation for commercial rivals such as Artsworld. Its future is dependent on the largesse of Greg Dyke for some years to come, although the possibilities of international sales look promising for this globally-minded channel.

Since there isn't anybody out there yet in the digital world, there is little point in Keating concerning himself with viewer figures. His best option is to serve Venus, the muse of art and eros, avoiding both high-class porn and the move to the crude. He will win support in the long run by going for what HE regards as culturally excellent. He should aim for the best, and damn the opposition.

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