As BBC Three returns, there are questions about the future of BBC Four, following last week’s confirmation of a licence fee freeze.
The channel has already seen most of its original programming cancelled or moved to BBC Two, where shows including Only Connect and Digging for Britain have enjoyed healthy viewing figures.
BBC sources have told The Times the channel cannot survive another round of cuts. In recent years, the channel has been re-positioned as an archive channel. Nearly 90% of its output are repeats.
BBC Four’s current budget is £30 million, but The Times quotes sources as saying the days of ‘salami slicing’ channel’s budgets are over. Instead, the BBC should close services and retrench in certain areas to make better use of its funding. Remaining BBC Four shows including The Sky At Night would then migrate to BBC Two. The BBC iPlayer would cater for BBC Four’s archive content. Now that BBC Three is back, BBC Four also loses its position as sports overspill channel. The Eurovision semi-finals will also move back from Four to Three.
Could benefit BBC Two
There’s a strong argument in favour, as this would give BBC Two additional content, with scope to reduce the overall number of repeats on the channel, despite limited budgets. BBC Two and BBC Four’s audiences are also similar. That’s in stark contrast to BBC Three, where programmes struggled to be integrated into BBC One or BBC Two’s schedules.
The most recent attempt to integrate BBC Three on BBC One in late night slots resulted in viewing figures after the BBC News at Ten falling off.
As licence fee funding fades, the BBC also faces increased pressure to raise commercial income. Even before BBC Four was cut back, relatively little of its own content was sold to international broadcasters or monetised through services like UKTV.
The BBC hasn’t yet made an official decision on the future of BBC Four. But Director-General Tim Davie has insisted that “everything is on the agenda” when it comes to possible cuts.