BBC Insists BBC3 Not For Sale Despite Hat Trick & Avalon’s £100M Bid – Update

UPDATE: The BBC has taken to Twitter to respond to this morning’s news that UK indies Hat Trick Prods and Avalon Entertainment were launching a £100M bid to save the BBC Three channel from becoming an online-only outlet.

After the proposal to acquire BBC Three was confirmed by Hat Trick to the media, the broadcaster’s press service feed tweeted the channel is “not for sale,” saying the plan to shift it to the web is “part of a bold move” to “reinvent its offer for young people.” BBC Three Controller David Kavanaugh also wrote a blog post this morning that began, “1. BBC Three is not closing and BBC Three is not for sale.”

The hubbub surrounding a possible sale — which would make BBC Three the first BBC public service to be privatized — comes the same day the BBC Trust opened a four-week “public consultation” during which Britons, who pay a license fee to fund the broadcaster, will be encouraged to express their views on a BBC Three move to the Internet. Thus far, research commissioned by the BBC has shown very little appetite for taking BBC Three off the air, Broadcast reported. The scheme is part of an ongoing cost-cutting drive at the BBC which is set to renew its charter next year. It also follows a somewhat calmer time at the BBC which in 2012 and 2013 made near-constatnt headlines over a series of editorial and management crises.

PREVIOUS, 2:27 AM PT: Independent UK producers Hat Trick and Avalon Entertainment are mounting a bid to buy BBC Three, the youth-skewing channel that the BBC has planned to reinvent as an online-only service. Hat Trick’s credits include entertainment format Have I Got News For You and Showtime’s Episodes. Avalon makes such programs as Russell Howard’s Good News for BBC Three as well as Comedy Central’s Workaholics. The Guardian reports that the bid to save the channel and keep it on air would be about £100M ($152M). In a statement to Deadline, Hat Trick confirmed an approach to the BBC Trust, saying that under new ownership, BBC Three “would continue to broadcast on all digital platforms, all current contracts would be honored and the channel’s program budget would be increased from £81M to £100M a year.” Under the BBC’s plans to move the channel online, the budget is to be cut to £30M.

Hat Trick also said, “all original commissions would be made by UK companies and the channel would continue to be aimed at a young and ethnically diverse audience.” Should a deal be done, it would be the first time a BBC public service has been sold to the private sector, The Guardian noted. It would also follow Viacom’s acqusition of the UK’s free-to-air Channel 5 in September.

When the move to online was first announced, the BBC said it would result in a savings of over £50M per year. BBC Three has catered to a young audience with shows like Little Britain and Gavin And Stacey which now air on other channels. With the broadcaster on a cost-cutting drive, BBC director-general Tony Hall wrote to staff in March that the BBC “has taken incremental change as far as it can. Something has to give. And that means hard choices.”

BBC Three has been set to go off air in the fall of this year with formal plans for the closure submitted to the BBC Trust in early December. BBC Three was launched in 2003.

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