Finally something to cheer about for the BBC: its rolling-news channel is gaining ground on commercial rival Sky News.

BBC News 24, which was relaunched in November, pulled more viewers than Sky, owned by Murdoch family-controlled satellite operator BSkyB, in two out of the four weeks in January.

According to figures from BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board), the BBC channel scored ratings of 5.15 million in the first week and 3.73m in the fourth -- ahead of Sky's 5.12m and 3.71m respectively.

It may, of course, have helped that the BBC has recently been making the news as well as reporting it. The publicly funded broadcaster recently lost its two most senior officers after the Corporation was heavily criticised in the Hutton Report into the death of British weapons expert Dr David Kelly [WAMN: 30-Jan-04].

Indeed, BBC News 24 was the first to report the departure of director general Greg Dyke, screening pictures of him being cheered by BBC journalists as he said his goodbyes last week.

The news channel was revamped in November following a government report written by Financial Times editor Richard Lambert. This study argued that BBC News 24 should take on Sky -- which enjoys a reputation as the premier channel for breaking stories -- by being first to the news.

Since its relaunch, the channel has also been given greater prominence on the BBC's mainstream terrestrial stations.

• Meantime, BSkyB chief executive James Murdoch is next week expected to confirm that the satellite company will resume paying dividends to its shareholders.

BSkyB -- in which News Corporation has a controlling stake -- reports interim results on Wednesday. Murdoch junior is expected to use the occasion to announce a date for the dividend and give some indication of its size.

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff