BBC’s Cohen refuses to rule out axing BBC4

Director of television Danny Cohen (pictured) also said the BBC has a creative opportunity to make shorter youth-targeting docs, as the UK pubcaster confirmed that BBC3 is to become an online-only brand.
March 6, 2014

BBC director of television Danny Cohen (pictured) is refusing to rule out closing down arts-focused channel BBC4, as the BBC confirmed that it will be shutting down youth-skewing TV channel BBC3.

The move will save the BBC more than £50 million [US$83.7 million] a year, the Corporation said, £30 million of which will go into drama programming on flagship terrestrial BBC1. BBC3′s slot on the TV schedule will be replaced by a BBC1 +1 time-shifted channel.

BBC3 will cease operations as a linear TV channel in the fall of 2015, subject to approval from the Corporation’s governing body, the BBC Trust.

In a statement, Cohen described the move as an “extremely difficult decision born out of financial necessity.” However, he said that the move would also give BBC3 “the freedom to break traditional shackles and allow the BBC to be a leader in digital change.”

“It will not just be a TV channel distributed online,” Cohen stated. “There is a wonderful creative opportunity here to develop new formats with new program lengths – and to reach young audiences in an ever-growing number of ways.

“Will we still want to make all of our current affairs documentaries at 60 minutes in the age of Vice and YouTube? Will we find that contemporary documentary and formats work much better at 40 or 45 minutes than 58?”

He also added that all of BBC3′s original long-form programming would be relocated to either BBC1 or BBC2, with most titles playing in late night, at 10.35 p.m. or later.

“We do not want our content for young audiences to be available only to those with a broadband connection – and we don’t want anyone to miss out on the great new programs we will be producing,” Cohen said.

Following the announcement, Cohen gave an interview with radio presenter Richard Bacon on BBC Radio 5 Live, in which he was asked whether he could guarantee the future of BBC3′s arts-focused sister network BBC4, which is home to the Beeb’s ‘Storyville’ documentary strand.

“The honest answer is no, I can’t,” he said. “We don’t know for certain what will happen with BBC4 in the future. The reason we made this change for BBC3 is because we face a series of financial cuts, the like of which the BBC has not had to cope with before.

“Taking on [financial responsibility for] the World Service cost £245 million to license fee payers, we took that in from the government in the last license fee settlement along with another set of commitments totaling £300 million. We can’t keep offering the same with less money.

“For BBC4, that means if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat, then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same route,” he added. “We will have to see what happens in the future with the license fee, whether we can keep BBC4.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.