BBC3 is to become an online-only service, closing down as a broadcast channel in autumn 2015, under plans set out today by BBC director general Tony Hall.
The move will free up over £50 million from BBC3's programme-making budget, providing a cash injection of £30 million into BBC1 drama and leaving the remainder to set up BBC3 in its new form. The channel's reduced operational costs will form part of the £100 million savings Hall has been tasked with making across the Corporation.
Meanwhile, the vacant broadcasting bandwith will be used to create a BBC1+1 service.
Hall said the decision to make online streaming service BBC iPlayer the home of future BBC3 content heralded “not the end of BBC3” but “the beginning of a new BBC3” which would better cater for a youth audience he believes is increasingly consuming content online and via mobile devices.
“This has been a difficult decision but it’s also a historic decision because it’s the first time we’ve asked a channel to transform itself to meet the needs that its audience will have in the future,” said Hall.
“So this is not the end of BBC3 programming and all the things people love and care passionately about BBC3, it is the beginning of a challenge to BBC3 to say ‘Now, move what you do so well into the environment which younger audiences are living in; an environment where things are on-demand; an environment where people want things when they want it, wherever they happen to be. That’s the challenge."
Speaking to Radio 5 Live this afternoon, BBC director of television, and former BBC3 boss, Danny Cohen admitted the changes were coming several years earlier than he would have liked: "Given an entirely free hand I would make this change in about four or five years’ time," Cohen told Richard Bacon. "[A more gradual move online] would be a safer, less risky strategy. But we don’t have the choice to wait."
Earlier in the week, star and writers of BBC3 shows – including Jack Whitehall, Matt Lucas and Chris Chibnall – shared their concerns about the rumoured changes via Twitter. And at the time of writing, an online Save BBC3 petition has gathered over 77,000 signatures.
Opponents of Tony Hall’s proposals can perhaps take heart from the fact that they must still be approved by the BBC Trust, which in 2010 reversed the decision to axe alternative music radio station 6 Music following a similarly high-profile campaign.