Plans to move BBC3 online have been pushed back until 2016 because the consultation process is taking longer than anticipated.
An interim decision on the future of the channel was expected as early as this month according to optimistic internal BBC assessments, with the move scheduled for the autumn.
However, BBC3’s closure as a broadcast channel – subject to BBC Trust approval – will now not happen until January next year because the Corporation’s regulator is still conducting its public value test and does not expect to publish the preliminary conclusions until June, according to BBC sources.
The Trust’s public consultation received 24,000 submissions, with an undisclosed number of industry figures – believed to be in the hundreds – adding their weight to opinions over the plans. After the Trust’s findings are published, the BBC Trust will oversee a further 28-day consultation before a final decision is made.
This means that BBC3 is unlikely to move online until January 2016. The Trust insists it has never set out an official timetable for the process, with sources pointing out that public consultations of this nature often take around nine or even 12 months.
A spokeswoman said: “There has been no delay to our process, which is the standard regulatory procedure and could only begin once we received formal proposals from the Executive in December. Our priority is to complete this work as quickly as we can, while ensuring that we fully and robustly scrutinise the BBC’s proposals.”
RadioTimes.com understands that the delays were necessary to make the process as thorough as possible and for the new online channel to be marketed properly.
A senior BBC executive told RadioTimes.com that the decision is likely to be waived through by the Trust but that the regulator may insist that the channel’s slated online budget is increased. According to the executive, a number of BBC programme-makers hope that the the Trust will only give the proposed move online the go-ahead if the programming budget is increased from the BBC’s current proposed figure of £30m a year to a figure approaching its current spend, which currently stands at £55m.
Jon Thoday, the managing director of independent producers and talent company Avalon, and Jimmy Mulville, the boss of production house Hat Trick, still insist that their £100m bid for BBC3 is still on the table. However, the BBC remains adamant that the channel is not for sale.
BBC3 controller Damian Kavanagh said the delay will not affect the output of the linear channel and its proposed online incarnation.
He said: “In all our briefings with suppliers and media we have said we will continue to commission shows with the creative ambition of Gavin & Stacey, Being Human, Murdered By My Boyfriend, Cuckoo, Bad Education, Growing Up Down’s, The Mighty Boosh, Him & Her, Nighty Night, The Revolution Will be Televised, Life and Death Row, Don’t Call me Crazy and Our War.
“Our commissioners have been busy since then talking to producers to find the next hits for BBC3 and we have some very interesting ideas in the pipeline. We’re hungry for groundbreaking, distinctive ideas and to that end we’ve arranged another briefing with independent factual suppliers next week and one for comedy suppliers next month. I’ll say the same at these as I said before Christmas… We will back the best ideas.”
On the Trust’s decision and timings, Kavanagh added: “Once we have the Trust’s final decision we’ll start doing more online and in social [promoting it on social networking sites], building up to a move online only after Christmas. This will make sure BBC3 fans come with us and we can tell them we are moving. You simply can’t turn round something as ground-breaking as this overnight. We won’t be rushed. We will do what’s right for our fans, not to satisfy deadlines.”