It is not yet clear which companies will bid to make the show, which is currently made in-house by the BBC Studios department, but any commercial bidders will have to offer strict assurances about the future of the programme which has always prided itself on its “pure science” approach.
Since 1964, Horizon has won numerous awards with many Bafta and Royal Television Society Awards to its name.
Chernobyl’s Sarcophagus (1991), Assault on the Male (1993) and The Fall of the World Trade Centre (2003) have all won International Emmys. In 1988, Horizon won a Bafta for Best Drama, Life Story about the elucidation of the structure of DNA.
However, if BBC Studios loses the right to make Horizon it will be a major blow to the BBC, which is still reeling from the loss of Songs of Praise.
The BBC had made the religious show since 1961, but now it is to be made by independent companies Avanti Media and Nine Lives Media who have agreed a three-year deal worth an estimated £12m.
And Songs of Praise could be forced off the air if staff walk out in a row over pay and pensions.
Workers have been unhappy since the two external companies took over production for the BBC’s flagship religious programme last month and broadcasting union Bectu has said that it is not ruling out strike action.
“The Beeb’s in-house Einsteins need to get their thinking caps on if it is not to experience similar difficulties with Horizon,” said a source.
A BBC spokesman said that the pitching process is “ongoing” and that “there isn’t anything to announce at the moment”.