BBC Four, CBBC, Radio 4 Extra and medium/long wave broadcasts will close in the coming years as the BBC tightens its belt and focuses on digital/online broadcasting.
CBBC, BBC Four and Radio 4 Extra won’t close immediately, but are due to be scrapped before the current BBC Charter and licence fee deal ends in 2027, but no earlier than 2025. Content will then move online.
Similarly, the BBC plans to stop broadcasting a separate schedule for BBC Radio 4 Longwave ahead of a full withdrawal from 198kHz in the coming years. Radio 4 content will continue on its other frequencies and digital/online outlets.
With the changes, the BBC wants to drive more users to the iPlayer and BBC Sounds. It currently reaches less than 50% of its viewers through the iPlayer, but wants to hit 75%.
Closure or move online?
Echoing BBC Three’s 2016 closure, which at the time was marketed as a move online, affected channels will live on within the iPlayer (audio services on BBC Sounds). They’ll use the alternative definition of a “channel”, being a place where viewers can find a collection of content grouped together by genre or target demographic, rather than operating as a live or linear service.
And – regardless of the BBC spin – just like 2016, the removal of the services from traditional TV platforms will be seen by many BBC users as a closure.
The move to close the CBBC TV channel in the coming years comes as little surprise, as the age group is increasingly streaming online. The linear channel continues to see a decline in its audience.
Nothing will change until at least 2025, so viewers on Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media will see no changes yet.
But CBBC’s TV reach among its target audience (6-12 year olds) has reduced from 27% in 2015 to just 14% in 2021. The sharpest decline has been among working class families, where CBBC reaches only one in ten children.
Already, providers of children’s content are moving to online-only distribution. Disney has already closed its linear channels in favour of Disney+.
As it stands, the BBC iPlayer will become the home of the CBBC brand, with scope for individual shows for family viewing to be shown on one of its main network channels.
BBC Four closure
BBC Four is currently being repurposed as an archive channel. This means the number of new programmes made for BBC Four is already being cut.
In the future, BBC Four’s archive legacy will live on a ‘channel’ within the BBC iPlayer.
BBC Radio 4 Extra closure
Despite being one of the most popular digital stations, it too faces the axe. it was launched twenty years ago as ‘BBC 7’ as part of a drive to create digital stations for new digital radio platforms, such as DAB.
But its schedule of archive dramas, comedies and other shows has been overtaken by the flexibility of on-demand services, including the BBC’s own Sounds app. This allows users to access the BBC’s library of archive material on-demand, without waiting for a timeslot on 4 Extra.
Radio 4 LW closure
The UK is one of the last places in the world to still have a long wave radio service, with the waveband becoming quieter as foreign services cease to broadcast.
Modern ships are kitted out with digital technology meaning they don’t need to rely on a long wave signal to reach them at sea with a weather forecast. On land, the use of long wave to receive services continues to decline. The BBC’s contact with Arqiva to maintain its long wave service is also due to end in the coming years.
BBC Radio 5 Live Medium Wave closure
BBC Radio 5 Live’s frequencies on 693 and 909 kHz will fall silent by December 2027, in line with a proposed industry wide exit from medium wave broadcasting.
The BBC is also planning to merge its UK and international TV news channels, and move some of its World Service language services on to online platforms only.
BBC regional news services in Oxford and Cambridge will be axed.
But the BBC’s flagship news bulletins will be revamped, with a focus on how well they perform among streamers.
Iain Hatton, Features Writer, RXTV