BBC3 closure: decision makes BBC 'whiter, older, and more middle class'

Ash Atalla, producer of The Office, says corporation is sending out the message it has given up on young people

Ash Atalla, the producer of The Office, said the BBC has got "whiter, older and more middle class" with its decision to axe its youth-orientated TV channel, BBC3.

Atalla, who has made several shows for BBC3 including its acclaimed Greg Davies sitcom Cuckoo, said the BBC had sent out a message that it had "given up" on young people.

Of BBC director general Tony Hall's decision, confirmed on Thursday, Atalla said: "It feels like a 60-year-old man in a golf jumper has walked into a really good nightclub and turned the music off so he can hear more Mozart next door.

"BBC3 is the main plank with which the BBC connects on television with young audiences and they have cut their link to the future," Atalla told BBC2's Newsnight on Wednesday.

"It is inexplicable that they have chosen to axe BBC3 as opposed to BBC4. They need to serve everyone the BBC. I understand they need to make cuts.

"However a BBC4 audience can migrate to BBC2. The BBC1 audience serves the whole family. A BBC3 audience who have been cut adrift today has nowhere else to go on BBC television. They have been marginalised.

"Today the BBC has got whiter, older and more middle class because it's the BBC3 audience that is the most diverse of all channels."

While the BBC3 TV channel has been axed, the brand will continue online albeit with a dramatically reduced budget and range of programmes.

Atalla said it was a myth that younger viewers – the channel is aimed at 16 to 34-year-olds – spent most of their time watching TV online.

"It sends out a really bad message that the youth market should just be shoved online," he said. "We are all onilne now. The statistics don't even bear it out – a BBC3 audience watches linear TV, it's a slightly middle aged older man perception that kids are simply online. Actually they like to watch TV in the way we all do."

He added: "What a strange thing to give up on young people, to marginalise young people. Of all the channels, of all the services, what a weird message to give to licence fee payers of tomorrow that there is no television channel aimed at you."

Former culture secretary Tessa Jowell, who approved the plans for BBC3 in 2003 after initially asking the corporation to rework its remit, said: "The important question is does this mean the BBC is giving up on a mainstream connection with 16 to 34-year-olds?"

Jowell said there was a "compelling case" for the BBC to have a channel aimed at younger people. "The BBC is a great national institution, it has to keep on replacing the people, the licence fee payers who die, and extend its reach to much younger people.

"I think the BBC has sometimes got to say to the government, this is licence fee payers' money it is not part of your spending round, it comes from a different source.

Asked whether it was the wrong move to axe the channel and put its content online, Jowell told the programme: "Wait and see whether the audiences migrate. I am not saying defend BBC3 at all costs. I am saying you have to find another way if the BBC wants to continue to appeal to young people, or give up on that cause altogether, which would be a pity."

David Elstein, the former Channel 5 and BSkyB executive, added: "All the savings that might be made out of BBC3 will have to be applied to filling the hold in the BBC pension fund. It's BBC pensioners who will benefit from these cuts more than anybody else."

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John Plunkett

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