BBC Four is set to be axed as the corporation’s bosses look to cut costs and divert dwindling funds to attract younger audiences.
Executives are preparing to shutter the channel and divert some of its budget to BBC Three, its key focus for winning over 16 to 34-year-olds, the Telegraph reported.
The highbrow channel, which has an average viewer age of 62, has a content budget of £44m but accounts for less than two per cent of the nation’s viewing, according to the report.
The broadcaster has officially denied there are plans to close BBC Four, but it is thought outgoing director general Tony Hall is leaving the announcement to his successor as he does not want the move to be part of his legacy.
The mooted closure comes as the public service broadcaster, which had already announced plans to slash 450 jobs and save £80m per year, faces financial pressure caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
The BBC has put the job cuts on hold and staff have been told to find £125m in cost savings this year amid difficulties enforcing licence fee payment and a delay to the end of the blanket free scheme for over-75s.
BBC Studios — the corporation’s commercial arm — has also been hit by a production shutdown during the pandemic.
In addition to saving funds, the closure of highbrow BBC Four would also reflect the corporation’s focus on attracting young audiences.
The broadcaster’s services have been hit by a sharp demand in viewing figures among this demographic amid the rising popularity of streaming services such as Netflix.
A source told the newspaper that arts programming at the BBC had been “ghettoised” as executives were “obsessed” with pursuing young viewers.
But BBC presenters hit back at the plans, urging the corporation to save the channel.
“It is totally understandable that, when people see a threat to a part of the BBC that they are very attached to, they want to protect it,” historian Professor Mary Beard told the newspaper.
“But the important thing is that we have a flourishing BBC. It is the whole piece that is important. I want the BBC to survive and there are many different ways in which it can do that.”
Dr Janina Ramirez, an Oxford academic and BBC documentary maker, described BBC Four as “the most amazing channel, unlike any other”.
“Word on the street is we need to let the BBC know we want BBC Four to stay,” she wrote in a tweet.