In a proposed plan that would result in close to US$100 million in savings a year, the BBC intends to close linear channel BBC Three and reinvent the youth-skewing brand as a solely online service – a move that would result in children’s channel CBBC being extended by one hour a night.
The plans, subject to the approval of the BBC Trust, are set to take effect in fall 2015. BBC director-general Tony Hall says the company’s iPlayer internet TV service better suits BBC Three’s young adult demographic, which currently spends 25% of its viewing time on mobile screens. BBC Three’s long-form content, however, will remain on either BBC One or BBC Two.
“Now – for this generation – I believe the iPlayer is a key part of the future for public service broadcasting. It’s the gateway for people who increasingly want to watch and listen to what they want, when they want it – on tablets, on mobiles as well as other screens,” Hall said in a statement. “I am sure that this is going to be increasingly important for our younger audiences. And reaching those audiences is vital for the BBC.”
Hall added that this marks the first time in BBC history’s that the company has proposed to close a TV channel, and that this move will likely not be the last major change in programming and services in the coming months and years.
The plans undoubtedly signify digital change both internally at the BBC and within the broader youth TV landscape. Late last year, the BBC Trust’s internal review of children’s channels CBBC and CBeebies underscored the impact that growing interactive offerings were having on the current TV landscape.
In 2012, 28% of five- to 15-year-olds had smartphones compared to 20% in 2011, with ownership driven by older children. Still, UK regulator Ofcom’s research has confirmed the important role that television particularly plays in younger children’s lives, so the extra hour of programming for CBBC – which has been overtaken by Disney as the most-watched children’s channel in UK satellite and cable homes – could have significant effects as CBBC continues to struggle to inherit younger viewers moving on from CBeebies. Key performance challenges for CBBC have rested in an environment where older children’s consumption of media, in particular, is increasingly fragmented, and BBC Children’s has said it is doing its part to develop plans to improve its online and interactive output.