The BBC has dismissed an audacious £100m proposal to buy BBC3, saying it did not make sense either “practically or in the interests of licence fee payers” and suggesting the producers behind the bid set up their own TV channel instead.
Danny Cohen, the BBC’s director of television, told Jimmy Mulville and Jon Thoday in a letter published on Wednesday that he was “not sure what you would be spending your money on”.
He said “fundamental questions” about the bid had “multiplied and deepened” since it was first revealed and said it “does not add up”.
“We cannot sell you the BBC brand name, the EPG [electronic programme guide] slot or the vast majority of rights to programmes. These are the key assets,” said Cohen.
“Your proposal does not add up when all these elements are taken into account. Essentially you would be buying a channel with a new non-BBC name, without an EPG slot on [digital terrestrial television] and cable and without any rights to currently produced or archive BBC programmes.
“When you actually get into the detail, we are not sure what you would be spending your money on. There is of course nothing to stop you setting up a new TV channel for young audiences if this is something you are passionate about doing.”
Jon Thoday, joint managing director of Russell Howard’s Good News producer Avalon, and Jimmy Mulville, managing director of Hat Trick, the company behind Have I Got News For You, outlined their plans to buy BBC3 after the corporation said last year it would close the channel and take it online-only.
The value of the offer would be the subject of negotiation but was likely to have been around £100m.
In a letter to the BBC Trust, which will consider the offer as part of its consultation into proposals to close the channel, the pair said the BBC’s current strategy “will not realise value for the licence payer, and there are better alternatives – not least, a commercial future for the channel”.
But Cohen ruled out a sale of the channel’s name and prominent slot on the EPG. He said a large proportion of its programme rights were “not the BBC’s to sell” because they were made by independent producers.
“We are not willing to privatise a UK public service BBC-branded channel,” said Cohen. “Nor would the BBC be willing to allow a third party company to decide the editorial direction of a BBC-branded channel in the UK.”
“Your proposal also does not stack up when it comes to content rights,” he added.
Cohen said hit BBC3 shows would continue to be commissioned for its new online-only incarnation, or transfer to BBC1 or BBC2, while US programmes on BBC3 would also switch to other BBC channels. He said a privately owned BBC3 could not be cross-promoted on any other BBC service.
The BBC will save around £50m by closing the channel, £30m of which will be spent on drama on BBC1. It will be replaced on the EPG by a new timeshifted channel, BBC1+1.
Cohen said it was “true that this proposal is partly born out of financial necessity” and “earlier than we might have ideally planned” but said it “does not change the fact that it is the right thing for young audiences in the long term”.
Cohen told Mulville and Thoday: “I sincerely hope that we will continue to work together on a great range of programmes and content in the future as we have done with great results in the past. Perhaps you may even be willing to make programmes for a new digital BBC3.”