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BBC Three’s online-only exodus planned for January 2016

The BBC Trust has approved plans to move youth-centric BBC Three from the airwaves to iPlayer in January 2016. 

The channel, which launched back in February 2003, would cease to take up space on digital TV programme guides early next year

Instead of being replaced by a BBC One+1 timeshift channel, BBC Three’s transition would be offset by the extension of CBBC’s run time by two hours, taking it up to 9:00pm – at which point TV reach for the target 6-12 year old demographic peaks. 

Under the proposed plans, programmes like Don’t Tell The Bride, which would have originally be destined for BBC Three, will find new homes on BBC One and BBC Two, which will be required to broadcast more content aimed at 16-34 year olds. 

The proposals follows millions of pounds of cuts having to be made at the BBC as a result of the licence fee freeze put in place by the previous coalition government. Closing the broadcast channel would save the BBC £30 million a year, which the Trust proposes forms the new BBC Three budget. 

Related: Can 270,000 Family Guy fans Save BBC Three?BBC Three would spend 80 percent of its new budget on long-form comedies like Bad Education and Cuckoo, instead of lighter formats such as Snog, Marry, Avoid and documentaries like Life and Death Row.  

The remaining 20 per cent of the budget will be spent on short-form content that will be housed online.

The main reason for such a little amount of content being hosted online is due to access. While there’s a general trend towards younger audiences watching more content online, not everyone can get a broadband service good enough to deliver the 2Mbps needed for iPlayer to work. 

BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead said: “We know young audiences are already moving towards the online future, but we do recognise that in the short term some of them will feel the immediate impact of the BBC Three proposals.

“We are therefore asking the BBC for commitments to ensure it uses the full range of its television services to better serve young people and others who make up BBC Three’s audience.”

The BBC Trust’s report ruled in favour of moving more youth-oriented content to BBC One and Two – ensuring that virtually everyone could watch it – while extending the run time of the CBBC channel. 

CBBC SD and HD shares the same broadcast capacity used by the BBC Three channels, making this transition an easy and natural process. 

The launch of BBC One +1 meanwhile has been put on hold. The BBC Trust’s report argued that replacing BBC Three with BBC One+1 wouldn’t mitigate the loss of the channel, despite plans to move a bulk of would-be BBC Three content to BBC One. 

While the timeshift channel would in theory give those without broadband access an extra chance to catch-up, it would need to be broadcast on the PSB-3 digital terrestrial multiplex – which under a quarter (24 per cent) of UK homes can’t access, without upgrading their TVs or set-top boxes.  

On the other hand, due to the UK’s comms infrastructure still being pretty wobbly in places, the BBC Trust cites Ofcom figures claiming that the 10 per cent of UK homes without a broadband connection won’t be able to watch the new online-only BBC Three. 

A BBC spokesperson said: “We welcome the Trust’s provisional conclusion, which is the next step in delivering our vision for a new BBC Three. 

“We’ll now consider the areas the trust have asked us to address and respond in due course.” 


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