BBC3 to be axed under director general's plans

Tony Hall expected to announce he will save BBC4 and make channel that first aired Gavin and Stacey online only

Poll: Has the BBC made the right decision to axe BBC3?

The closure of BBC3 is to be proposed by the BBC director general, the Guardian understands, bringing the curtain down on the youth-oriented TV channel after 11 years.

Tony Hall is expected to announce later this month that he is axing the channel – which first aired programmes ranging from Gavin and Stacey to Hotter Than My Daughter – as part of a plan to save £100m a year.

His decision also signals a reprieve for its sister channel, the arts and culture specialist BBC4, which has faced calls for it to be axed and merged into BBC2 – although it is not clear if the channels will subsequently be renumbered.

An announcement is expected as early as Thursday when the BBC will confirm that BBC3 will close and become a wholly online channel.

Gavin and Stacey
Gavin and Stacey. Photograph: Baby Cow/BBC Photograph: Baby Cow/ BBC

BBC3 shows will be available only through the iPlayer rather than a traditional TV channel.

However, Hall's plans still have to be approved by the BBC Trust, which four years ago overturned former director general Mark Thompson's plan to shut BBC Radio 6 Music following a concerted protest from listeners.

Rumours that BBC3 was under threat led some BBC stars to take to Twitter on Tuesday to urge the corporation not to axe the channel. They included the comedians Jack Whitehall and Matt Lucas, Radio 1 DJs Nick Grimshaw and Greg James, and presenter Richard Bacon.

BBC3, which launched in 2003, built its reputation on the back of comedies such as Little Britain and Gavin and Stacey and documentaries including its Bafta-winning Our War, about young troops in Afghanistan.

Russell Tovey in Being Human
Russell Tovey in Being Human, another BBC3 show. Photograph: BBC Photograph: BBC

But it has also proved controversial, with provocatively titled programmes such as My Man Boobs and Me, and Snog, Marry, Avoid?, and been criticised for boosting its ratings with repeats of EastEnders and Hollywood movies.

Critics of the BBC's size had singled it out as a candidate for closure, seizing on what they perceived to be its salacious and celebrity-obsessed content. But the BBC had long argued it played a role in reaching younger viewers.

Speaking before confirmation of the closure plans, the comedian Russell Kane, a familiar face on BBC3, said: "If BBC3 is really under threat, so is much of the UK's new comedy. This place is the crucible of upcoming comedic artists. Yet again, young people don't get a proper voice in the cutbacks."

Matt Lucas and David Walliams in Little Britain
Matt Lucas and David Walliams in Little Britain, which originally aired on BBC3. Photograph: BBC Photograph: BBC

Hall told the Oxford Media Convention last week that "hard decisions" had to be made and that the BBC "couldn't stay the same" as he outlined the need to save another £100m a year in the runup to charter renewal and a new licence fee settlement.

He ruled out so-called "salami slicing" – smaller reductions in budgets across the board – to make the savings required, raising the spectre that a frontline channel would be axed.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the channel slot vacated by BBC3 on Sky, Virgin Media and Freeview, or how the branding of BBC4 will work in the absence (on television) of BBC3.

The corporation already puts a number of BBC3 shows, including its Jack Whitehall comedy Bad Education, on the iPlayer before they are broadcast on BBC3.

An episode of Bad Education last year was the fourth most watched programme on the iPlayer across the whole of 2013, with nearly 3m views.

Hall is due to unveil his vision for a new-look second generation iPlayer next week.

The BBC declined to comment beyond the statement it put out on Tuesday: "Tony Hall set out some of the very real challenges the BBC faces at his speech in Oxford. He made clear that we will face tough choices about our budgets, and while nothing is off the table, no decisions have been made."

Contributor

John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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