BBC Four is one of the BBC’s most highly-regarded networks, but its future is under threat as the UK broadcaster looks to cut costs and refocus on super-serving young audiences.
There have been months of whispers about BBC Four’s durability and the rumor mill went into overdrive last week when the channel’s editor, Cassian Harrison, made a surprise sideways move to BBC Studios on a nine-month attachment.
The BBC insisted that the plan is for Harrison to return, but industry insiders think it is the first step in a major change of course for the network, which spawned hits like The Thick Of It and introduced UK audiences to Scandi drama The Killing.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday that BBC Four will be axed, even though it said the BBC won’t publically admit that this is the case. Indeed, a spokeswoman said: “There are no plans to close BBC Four.”
Despite this official line, BBC insiders told Deadline that the channel is likely to be a victim as the corporation looks to plug a £125M ($152M) hole in its funding created by coronavirus.
They expect BBC Four to be either dramatically scaled back, so it effectively becomes an archive and repeats channel, or for it to be replaced by BBC Three, the youth network that was controversially moved online in 2016.
Either way, BBC Three would likely benefit from redirected funding as the BBC looks to grow its appeal among 16-34-year-old viewers. The service has had big hits in recent years including Normal People and Fleabag.
The question is whether BBC director general Tony Hall makes a decision on BBC Four before his departure this summer or if he leaves it to his successor. BBC sources say he is reluctant to have the closure of BBC Four be part of his legacy.
BBC Four’s uncertain future has prompted protests from industry figures who have worked for the channel since its launch in 2002. The Thick Of It and Veep writer Simon Blackwell tweeted: “It’s 15 years ago this month that The Thick Of It first aired. Wouldn’t have happened without BBC Four’s commitment to new programming. Sad to see that the channel is likely to be either axed or turned into an archive/repeats station.”
Historian Lucy Worsley plugged her new BBC Four show, Lucy Worsley’s Royal Photo Album, on Twitter with the message: “NEW SHOW on @BBCFour tonight – and long may those who love @BBCFour continue to read those words!”
Dr Janina Ramirez, another BBC Four presenter, added: