BBC4: A Reithian Channel Struggling In An Online Revolution

The BBC has been in a slight decline over the last few years ever since the announcement of budget cuts of around 40% to its whole service. Whilst this hasn’t noticeably affected the quality content it produces over the four main channels, it does mean that other sections of the BBC are under threat of closure or conversion to a digital format.

One of the most talked about issues regarding cuts is the decision to revert BBC3 to an online only platform. The decision does have validity – as a majority of the viewers do watch on iPlayer – but the controversy stems from a presumption that BBC3 is the weakest channel. Some believe that because of the target demographic (16-34) it comes under the most threat as those younger viewers are most likely not paying for any kind of licence fee. BBC3 has a good amount of documentary programming for younger viewers including the current ‘Stacey Dooley’ investigations into drug culture and, most importantly, into the issues affecting young people around the world – a subject that does not get coverage on the other BBC platforms. Tony Hall, BBC director General, has speculated that the transfer to a digital platform could save £50 million a year.

Speaking at the London Science Museum, Hall stated that one of the challenges the BBC face is the technological changes. One interesting change is his idea to “experiment with bigger and bolder series all at once on iPlayer, so viewers have the option of ‘binge watching’ – a concept undoubtedly inspired by Netflix’s way of releasing content.

With Hall’s speech focussing on cuts and alternative broadcast measures, attention has now turned to BBC4 and its susceptibility to these cuts. Often described as a channel for the older generation, the past few years has seen a surge in international acquisitions including new Scandinavian dramas such as The Bridge and 1864 prompting a vast change in its demographic. Whilst we see a vast change in the content, the channel still adheres to the clear Reithian ideas that a channel should “inform, educate, entertain”. This statement of intent from Cassian Harrison, channel editor, has decreased the average age of the viewership and increased the percentage of live viewers to 14%. BBC4 cost around £63 million in 2014/15, of which £46 million was spent. Also, that £63 million is eclipsed by the £1.3 billion spent on BBC1.

BBC Strategy Chief James Purnell has said that there are no current plans to axe BBC4 but remains like-minded alongside the BBC – “We are not ruling anything in or out”

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