BBC to Turn Youth Network Into Online-Only Channel

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BBC director general Tony Hall

UPDATED: The team of Tony Hall, the head of the public broadcaster, has been looking for cost savings, with BBC Three emerging as one key target.

LONDON -- The BBC is planning to shutter youth-skewing TV network BBC Three and move its shows online amid the need for more cost savings.

BBC director general Tony Hall last week told a TV industry conference in Oxford that the U.K. public broadcaster faces "tough choices" amid the need for an additional $165 million in annual savings. He didn't immediately mention which services or divisions could be affected, but on Tuesday night, the Guardian reported that BBC Three on-air talent has started a campaign to save the network amid fears that it could be axed.

On Wednesday, Broadcast magazine reported that the BBC was considering turning the channel into an online-only offering that would be featured on its digital player, BBC iPlayer.

BBC News late in the day confirmed that Hall had decided on that path, with an official announcement expected as early as Thursday. A move to an online-only channel, which still needs approval from the BBC Trust governing body, would reduce programming and other budgets at the network.

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"Tony Hall set out some of the very real challenges the BBC faces at his speech in Oxford," a BBC spokesman said Wednesday mid-day. "He made clear that we will face tough choices about our budgets, and while nothing is off the table, no decisions have been made."

BBC Three is led by controller Zai Bennett and has developed a younger following with comedies and such dramas as Gavin & Stacey. Among the big names who have expressed concern about the end of 11-year-old BBC Three is Little Britain star Matt Lucas.

In recent months, some industry observers have suggested that BBC Two and BBC Four could be combined, but the latter is seen as a likely focus for arts programming under Hall, the former head of the Royal Opera House in London.

BBC Three has already debuted some shows, such as sitcoms Bad Education and Some Girls, on digital platforms before their on-air runs.

Its target audience of 16-to-34-year-olds and its focus on "innovative" content, young talent and new technologies also make its move online a more logical step than it would be for the other channels.

Twitter: @georgszalai