BBC TV Boss: Moving Youth Network Online Is a "Risk"

Danny Cohen Executive Suite - H 2013
Charlie Gray

Danny Cohen Executive Suite - H 2013

Danny Cohen says that the youth-oriented channel's move was an important shift in addressing changing viewing habits.

BBC TV head Danny Cohen on Monday defended the U.K. public broadcaster’s decision to move its youth-oriented network BBC Three online-only, part of a series of budget cuts.

“The BBC has 26 percent less money to spend. Any company, any business would have to make some quite radical changes,” Cohen said during a keynote appearance at the the Media Summit, part of Creative Week being held at BAFTA’s London headquarters. “The question you then ask yourself when you’ve got to make those changes is ‘how do you have the most impact with less money'?"

While the plan to move BBC Three online — something that still needs to be approved by the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s independent governing body — was met with criticism, Cohen said that the opportunity was “really exciting” and that the BBC had to be in both linear TV and digital conversations amid changing viewer habits.

“We are still going to keep making, as BBC Three, great quality drama, innovative young comedy, great serious factual programming — we’re just changing the distribution platform,” he said.

With young audiences moving away from linear TV, Cohen said it was vital that the BBC had “an exciting, innovative risk-taking and forward-looking strategy” to address this shift, ensuring that in five years it would be as big in digital as it is in broadcasting.

“We keep making great high quality content in those key genres for young people, but we take a risk; we get into an environment that more and more young people are in,” he said, adding that he wanted the content to be on the same platform as Netflix, Facebook, YouTube and Vice Media.

Although Cohen admitted that it was likely that BBC Three would lose some audience initially, in the future it would be seen as mistake if the corporation put “all its chips” on linear, and likened the move to the risk the BBC took when it launched online news in the 1990s and iPlayer in the 2000s.

“Thanks god the people leading the BBC at that time invested in BBC news online and the iPlayer, because they thought not just what’s right for next year, but what’s right for 5 to 10 years time.”

Speaking later in the morning session, BBC Three director Damian Kavanagh pointed to the figures that have emerged from the channel since it began, such as new Late Late Show host James Corden, but said it was important that broadcaster didn’t “bury its head in the sand like the music industry” when it came to capitalizing on new platforms.

“We need to fish where the fish are,” he said.

Elsewhere, Cohen declined to discuss the ousting of former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, his potential to return to the BBC in the future and the progress of the search for his replacement on the motoring show. Cohen said that anything he would say on the topic would just "fuel another news cycle."