BBC to close stations, slash online budget

Digital radio stations BBC 6 Music, Asian Network to close

LONDON -- The BBC is to cut £100 million ($150 million) a year in overhead costs and "reprioritize" £600 million ($900 million) per year into higher quality content, in a major repositioning of the organization that will see it focus on the core areas of news, children's programs, culture and arts and U.K. drama and comedy, director general Mark Thompson said Tuesday.

The move will see the pubcaster cut its estimated £100 million acquisitions budget for such shows as "Heroes" and "Mad Men" by almost a quarter, and will slash its web operations by half.

The pubcaster will also shut down digital radio stations BBC 6 Music and the Asian Network and cap spending on sports rights to 9% of the pubcasters £3.5 billion ($5.2 billion) a year license fee. A range of teen-focused services including radio, TV and online platforms BBC Switch and BBC Blast will also be closed down, opening the way for government-owned Channel 4 to carry the public service mantle for teen programming.

"We are going to concentrate on the things that really make a difference," Thompson told BBC Radio 4 News. "That is what the public tell us they want and we have to be more clear than we ever have before about where our priorities are."

Thompson denied that the moves were part of a plan to protect the BBC ahead of the general election expected in May, after which either of the main parties could be expected to demand savings and spending cuts as the U.K. government has to slash public spending to meet its debt obligations.

"Categorically not...I don't believe that the thrust of what we are doing -- which is putting more money into content and reducing overheads -- is a party political point," said Thompson.

But Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw warned the BBC against making its policy based on the idea that the Conservative party would win the election.

"The BBC is a great British asset and should not approach the future assuming the Conservatives, who are viscerally hostile to the BBC, will win the election," Bradshaw said.

"The BBC should have confidence in itself and the enormous support it enjoys from the British people," said Bradshaw.

The plans will now be put forward for public and industry consultation before a final decision will be made by the BBC Trust later this year.

Proposals to cut BBC Radio 6, the niche music station for new music, have already caused uproar, with over 90,000 members joining a Facebook Save6Music campaign within hours of the news, and stars like David Bowie and Jarvis Cocker condemning the move.
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