BBC TV Boss: More Channels Could Be Moved Online

Danny Cohen Executive Suite - H 2013
Charlie Gray

Danny Cohen Executive Suite - H 2013

After the decision to make BBC Three a digital-only service, Danny Cohen says more channels could go that route if the U.K. public broadcaster's funding comes "under more threat."

LONDON -- The BBC's head of television has warned that more programming services may have to be moved online-only if funding of the U.K. public broadcaster continues to decline.

On Thursday, the broadcaster confirmed that youth network BBC Three would end linear broadcasts next fall amid the need for cost savings. Its shows will move to other BBC networks and the digital player iPlayer.

Danny Cohen, the BBC's director of television, said in a BBC Radio interview late in the week that management had to shutter BBC Three because of the 2010 license fee agreement with the British government, which saw the broadcaster take on extra funding responsibilities, including for radio service BBC World Service.

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Cohen, who helped build BBC Three as a former controller of the channel, said the decision to shutter it was "painful." He added that it allowed the BBC to properly fund its remaining services through the end of the current license fee cycle in 2016/2017. The license fee, which TV homes must pay every year, is a key funding source for the BBC.

"The reason we made this change for BBC Three is because we face a series of financial cuts the likes of which the BBC has not had to cope with before," The Guardian quoted Cohen as saying.

Asked if he could guarantee the future of such networks as culture-centric BBC Four, Cohen said: "The honest answer is no, I can't." He added: "For BBC Four, that means if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat, then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same [online-only] route. …We will have to see what happens in the future with the license fee, whether we can keep BBC Four" as a linear network.

There has been much political debate about whether the BBC license fee should be reduced further in the next agreement with the government.

In an interview with THR last year, Cohen talked about his plans to ensure high-quality programming while also experimenting with new approaches in the digital age.

Twitter: @georgszalai