BBC Three Head Bullish on Network's Online-Only Future

Luke Macgregor/Reuters
BBC director general Tony Hall last week announced that BBC Three would become an online-only service.

The U.K. public broadcaster's youth channel "is not only still open, but thriving," says controller Zai Bennett.

LONDON -- The BBC made headlines here last week when it announced its first-ever shutdown of a linear TV network.

The U.K. public broadcaster said it would remodel its youth channel BBC Three into an online-only service in the fall of 2015 amid the need to cut costs.

On Monday, BBC Three head Zai Bennett discussed the decision in an editorial in the Guardian.

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"I do find it slightly perverse that I am writing about the fact the station will cease to be a linear channel," he acknowledged. But he mostly highlighted his optimism about the service's future.

"The BBC and its leadership are not trying to varnish this decision as being anything other than hard, but they believe, within the current financial realities of the license fee, changes have to happen," he explained. "What I want to stress is that BBC Three is not only still open, but thriving."

The controller of the network also touted successful shows and the channel's focus on risk-taking.

"When I joined BBC Three in April 2011, I inherited a channel which said it was 'Never Afraid to Try New Things,' " Bennett wrote. "I rather liked that mission statement, and in the past three years, every show we have has tried to live up to those ideals of innovation and creativity, answering only to our young adult audience."

He added: "In its rich history, BBC Three has had some exceptional successes. We've rightly heard a lot about Gavin and Stacey, Little Britain and our recent comedy hits like Bad Education and The Revolution Will Be Televised, but let's not forget that BBC Three is also the only channel in the U.K. that makes documentaries and current affairs specifically for the young adult audience."

Addressing what BBC Three will need to do to succeed as a digital-only service, Bennett said it "will have to embrace its creative, risk-taking nature more than ever."

Concluded the executive: "BBC Three has been amazing at growing talent; it now has to redouble its efforts. It will definitely be a smaller originator than it used to be with about half of its current budget, but that money can be focused on being the best in class rather than filling a linear schedule."

Added Bennett: "I am confident that the strength and depth of the existing brand, its talent, its suppliers, its staff and the love of its audience give it more than a fighting chance of not only surviving but truly being a pathfinder for the BBC in the next stage of how audiences consume its content."

Twitter: @georgszalai