BBC executives are confident that the Trust will give the go-ahead to the abolition of BBC3 as a broadcast channel next year.
Hopes were raised that the plans are not a foregone conclusion after the Trust appeared to query the decision last week, but senior BBC sources confirm that the mood remains downbeat about the survival of the channel which has brought us hit shows including Bluestone 42, Being Human and Him & Her.
BBC3 was given an apparent lifeline on Thursday when a review by the BBC Trust – the body that effectively regulates the BBC – said the youth-oriented station was not currently working as an “online destination”. Under the current plans the channel will be taken off air and will migrate online to BBC iPlayer next autumn, making savings of around £50m.
The report said: “BBC3 has yet to establish itself as an online destination, with the Trust’s research showing that awareness of any digital innovation or experimentation by BBC3 online, beyond [the BBC’s] iPlayer, was low.”
The Trust, which will ultimately decide whether or not to sanction the move, also reported in its annual BBC Service Review that the channel succeeded in reflecting and exploring the diversity of UK society and was “highly valued” by a small but passionate constituency of mainly younger viewers.
BBC3 was shown to appeal to the key 16-34 age range at a time when the average age of BBC1 viewers has grown to 59 from 56 in 2010/11, while the average age of those watching BBC2 had increased from 58 to 60.
However senior BBC managers believe that, despite these assertions, the Trust will not block the proposal as it did in 2010 over radio station 6 Music.
The specialist music channel had been lined up for closure by the BBC but was ultimately saved by the Trust which overturned the decision.
“There is no way the Trust will do a 6 Music and block the BBC3 closure – it has gone too far and the BBC needs to make these savings. If they block this where do they suggest that the savings will come from?,” said one senior executive. “It’s impossible.”
Another added: “Everyone at the BBC is acting as if the channel will go.”
BBC director of television Danny Cohen has to formally submit the closure proposals – something he is expected to do by this autumn, according to sources.
BBC director-general Tony Hall has already outlined pans to close the channel in autumn 2015 and plough the savings into other areas of the BBC, with an extra £30m going to TV drama.
The BBC said BBC3 would be “reinvented as a new and innovative online service”.
The formal submission of the proposals will automatically trigger a Public Value Test (PVT) by the Trust.
This means that the public and industry figures will be invited to comment on the proposals, probably online. Usually this procedure takes around six months to complete, with the channel scheduled to be taken off air in October 2015.