BBC4 to focus on arts and culture

Digital channel likely to ditch drama and comedy programming

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BBC4 looks set to abandon its comedy and drama output in order to focus more heavily on arts and culture.

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The decision comes as part of a cost-cutting strategy that aims to save the BBC £700m, or 20% of its budget.

BBC4 is critically acclaimed, having produced Bafta-winning programmes such as The Road to Coronation Street and discovered several successful European imports including crime-drama The Killing. Yet it commands the attention of less than one per cent of the total television audience, and lost eight per cent of its audience last year.

The BBC’s new Director of Vision George Entwistle wants the channel to be more “sharply defined”, and inside sources are reported to have opined that refocusing BBC4 as an arts and culture channel is “the clear direction of travel”.

Channel controller Richard Klein clarified the new focus of BBC4 in the BBC’s statement of programme policy, which was published last week. He described BBC4’s aim “to be British television’s most intellectually and culturally enriching channel, offering an ambitious range of UK and international arts, music and culture,” but conspicuously avoided any specific mention of comedy or drama.

Both were also notably absent from Klein’s vision of service for the next 12 months, in which he stated that BBC4 would be “tackling some of the big arts subjects like ballet and sculpture”.

There are still a number of dramas still waiting to air on the channel however, including a film about photographer David Bailey and a two-part adaptation of Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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While commentators have speculated that BBC2’s output would likely be “beefed up” by the changes at BBC4, a BBC spokesperson is reported to have insisted that as yet “no decisions have been taken”.