The BBC3 TV channel will be switched off by February next year, the BBC Trust has confirmed, despite accepting that almost 1 million younger viewers could desert the corporation as a consequence.
Moving the 12-year-old, youth-oriented channel online will save the corporation about £30m a year, with some of those savings redirected into its drama budget for BBC1. The content budget for the new online-only service will be £30m, a 50% cut from the current level, about £6m of which will be spent on short-form content.
The trust announced on Thursday that it had approved the corporation’s long-running intention to scrap the BBC3 TV channel, but told bosses they must boost the amount of programming targeting young people on BBC1 and BBC2.
The BBC3 TV channel will stop showing programmes at the end of January, but will continue to run as a “barker” – “a promotional transitional channel” – until it is fully switched off at the end of February.
The trust strengthened some of the conditions set out in its provisional decision rubber-stamping the closure of the TV channel in June, in an attempt to address concerns about the loss of services to the key 16 to 34-year-old demographic.
Conditions include that all BBC3 TV long-form programmes made must also be broadcast on BBC1 and BBC2 at a variety of times across the schedule, so they are not just buried in “less visible and unpopular slots”.
There is also a stipulation that the corporation must look to make more programmes targeting younger audiences specifically for BBC1 and BBC2, on top of the BBC3 programming it has to air.
The trust said it was attempting to address concerns about losing its younger audience after research showed that up to 80% of the 925,000 audience who use no other BBC TV service could switch off.
The BBC said 540,000 of those are 16 to 34-year-olds.
On average, 11.2 million people watch BBC3 every week, according to the trust’s own analysis.
As a consequence of the online-only switch, the BBC’s reach among 16 to 24-year-olds could fall by 3% to 3.5% overall, and up to 5% of black audiences and women in lower-income households are also likely to be lost.
The trust’s own public-value assessment said the corporation’s proposal offered “low value for money” because of the reduction in viewers, but recognised that the savings would “offset financial pressures” or be used to reinvest in other areas.
The trust acknowledged that there had been strong public opposition to the closure of the TV channel but said the proposal had “intuitive force”.
The trust said care had to be taken about the loss of “watershed protection” of the regular linear schedule of BBC3 in a shift online, to make sure younger viewers don’t have access to unsuitable content.
The corporation said BBC3 online shows on BBC iPlayer will have the standard parental lock feature and adult material will come with a “G” for guidance.
Ofcom’s market impact assessment found that BBC3 TV was viewed as a “flicking channel” where people “stumbled across content”.
It went on to say that given BBC3 shows will move to other BBC channels, and that popular shows including Family Guy and American Dad have already been poached by rivals, as well as options to watch similar alternative services such as E4 or Dave, “BBC3 audiences may be less likely to follow BBC3 content online”.
The trust said it would review the performance of the BBC3 online service within the next 18 months.
“The BBC Trust could then consider imposing quotas or formal targets if it considers that performance against the conditions has been unsatisfactory,” the report said.
The trust also approved plans to extend CBBC, the children’s channel that shares the programme guide and channel number with BBC3, by two hours to 9pm.
The report said the proposed extension of CBBC’s hours “drew a mixed response from audiences and incremental reach is likely to be low”. It said its consultation respondents were “on the whole opposed to extended hours”.
However, it approved the plan in part because it can be implemented at “minimal cost” and the extension of hours was not likely to impact commercial rivals.
“The proposal would expand choice for younger viewers, could be implemented at minimal cost and represented good use of the licence fee,” said the BBC Trust.
It has also given the green light to develop iPlayer beyond a catch-up service to include more online-first and third-party content.
As expected, the trust confirmed its rejection of the corporation’s controversial bid to launch a BBC1+1 channel in place of BBC3.
The report gave the corporation three months to return with a full proposal for the use of the BBC3 TV spectrum.
The BBC Trust said a BBC1+1 channel would have an adverse impact on commercial rivals.
Channel spectrum is worth about £4m to £5m, according to industry sources.
However, the spectrum occupied by BBC3 – in standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) – comes with some caveats for potential buyers.
The SD spectrum has to be used for public service broadcasting, which will potentially limit its interest to commercial rivals.
The HD spectrum has fewer restrictions, making it more valuable, but any buyer will also only be able to broadcast from 9pm.
Separately, a range of players across the country, including local TV services London Live, STV in Scotland and Mustard TV in Norwich, are aiming to snap up the valuable BBC3 position that will be vacated on the electronic programme guide on services including Freeview, Virgin Media and Sky.
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