How the fate of BBC3 will be determined

Although the BBC has laid out its plans to move the channel online to iPlayer, there’s a long road ahead before we know whether BBC3 will actually be axed… or saved

On Thursday 6 March Director General Tony Hall officially announced the Corporation’s plans to axe BBC3 as we know it and move the youth-orientated channel to iPlayer.  The news has been met with strong opposition from viewers with more than 200,000 people already signing a petition to save the channel, and numerous high-profile celebrities, including Jack Whitehall, Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas to name but a few, publicly speaking out against the proposal.


But despite this strong opposition, BBC3 as we know it is doomed, right? Wrong. There’s a long way to go before the channel is officially stripped from the electronic programme guide to make room for more cost cutting at the Corporation, BBC1 drama (£30m of it) and an extra hour of CBBC.  

For any such “significant change” proposal to become a reality, it has to be put before the BBC Trust (the BBC’s regulatory body) for approval.  It is only when the Trust rubber-stamps the proposal that the BBC can move to enact its plans. This is far from a forgone conclusion…

So what happens next?

Well, thanks for asking. The Trust can only begin adjudicating on the fate of BBC3 once it has received the full proposal from the BBC Executive board.  At the time of writing, these plans have still not formally been submitted.  BBC insiders suggest this might not happen for several more months, meaning the Trust won’t start the regulatory process until the summer. 

And what exactly will the BBC Trust do?

For a change of this magnitude (closing a TV channel) the Trust will subject the proposal to a Public Value Test.  This will determine whether the closure of BBC3 is in the overall interests of the licence fee payer, ultimately the shareholders of the BBC. 

Is that what happened with BBC Radio 6 Music in 2010?

No, the closure of 6 Music was bundled as part of a larger package of cuts (including the axing of BBC Asian Network) in the Delivering Quality First (DQF) proposals. The Trust decided to consult directly with audiences on DQF as a whole, and following analysis of the results ruled to keep the station open without need for a Public Value Test. It’s also worth noting that the waters are slightly more muddy with BBC3 as the proposal – unlike Radio 6- is not to completely close the service, just to reduce its capacity and move elsewhere.

So what is this Public Value Test, then?

The Public Value Test has four stages:

1.     An assessment of the likely public value of the proposal, carried out by the Trust
2.     A market impact assessment, carried out by Ofcom, which assesses the extent of any likely impact on markets relevant to the proposed change
3.     The Trust considers and publishes the outcome of both assessments, and reaches provisional conclusions regarding the proposed change
4.     The Trust consults on the provisional conclusions before reaching a final conclusion on the proposed change.

And when do I get my say?

Stage 1 will involve a public consultation.  The best guess at the moment is for this to happen in September.  A public consultation would usually last 28 days, and will probably invite viewers to submit their views through the BBC Trust website, post and email.  The BBC Trust is obliged to publicise this consultation when it happens, so look out for announcements in the press at the end of the summer. 

Yeah, but the Trust just does what the BBC want, right?

Not necessarily.  The last time there was a PVT – over proposals for local video in 2009- the Trust rejected the plans of the BBC executive board – so there’s no guarantee that this Public Value Test will consign BBC3 to the Internet. 

So all is not lost for BBC3?

No, it’s not.  This process is going to take a long time and there will be a chance for everyone to air his or her views in front of the Trust.

Is there anything I can do to have my say now?

Yes, but only unofficially.  You can sign the petition to Save BBC3 and you can join the online debate on the subject on Twitter on the #SaveBBC3 and #SaveBBCThree hashtags.  And of course watching the channel will help too.  If viewing figures continue to improve on BBC3 shows, it sends a public message to the BBC, and in time the Trust, who will have to note the popularity of the channel in its impact study.