BBC Four could become global subscription service outside of UK

BBC World news; China
The BBC is one of the UK’s public service broadcasters

The BBC is exploring the possibility of launching BBC Four as a global subscription service outside of the UK, it has been announced.

It is also considering bringing back BBC Three as a linear TV channel, four years after it went digital-only, while cutting budgets in other areas and moving staff and resources out of London and the South East, towards the Midlands and the North and developing a tech hub in Newcastle.

The BBC faces an estimated £125 million lost income this year due to the coronavirus crisis, according to its annual plan.

There had been speculation that BBC Four was in danger of closing, but the plan says it will now centre around archive programming and arts.

It says: “BBC Four will increase focus on bringing together collections of the most distinctive content from the BBC’s rich archive.

“Arts will continue to be a centrepiece of Four as we carry on showcasing Culture In Quarantine through this period.

“Outside the UK, we are exploring potential commercial opportunities for BBC Four to become a new global subscription service that takes our strengths in specialist factual to the world stage.”

The plan also says that the best BBC Four content will now also be broadcast on BBC Two, giving the programmes “a bigger shop window”.

The BBC is also exploring how to maximise the impact of “this new young adult content”, from BBC Three, such as Fleabag, Killing Eve, This Country and Normal People, by considering bringing the channel back to linear television and doubling its content budget.

The plans says: “Our research evidence shows that there is a big available audience on linear television and the BBC could reach them if we move decisively.

“So there is potentially a strong case for restoring BBC Three as a linear channel as well as an online destination.

“But in the course of this year we will need to explore how viewing habits develop during the Covid-19 crisis.”

Normal People, its adaptation of Sally Rooney’s acclaimed novel, arrived on iPlayer in April and has so far had 38 million requests to view it, according to the BBC.

Amid competition from streaming services like Netflix, the BBC plans to double the amount it spends on commissions for the channel – from around £30 million-£40 million to around £80 million – over the next two years.

Recapturing a younger audience will be seen as a key task for the new BBC director-general.

Last year, broadcasting watchdog Ofcom warned that the BBC was at risk of losing “a generation of viewers” if it could not engage a younger audience.

The BBC has also said it will move staff and resources out of London in a bid to reach the whole country.

The plan says: “As Britain emerges from the crisis, we will want to do much more for the whole UK, shifting resources, staff and services out of London and South East towards the Midlands and the North of England, particularly in our local and regional services.

“Over time, we will be commissioning more content outside London and developing a new tech hub in Newcastle.”

Lord Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, said: “The pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for most organisations. The BBC is no different. In our response, we have always tried to put the public first and deliver our public service remit in its truest sense. The response from audiences has been remarkable.

“We have seen a huge leap in the usage of our services, particularly among young people. The digital improvements we’ve made over the past year mean the BBC is well placed to embrace the future.

“We can now give audiences the BBC they want – a better iPlayer with more quality programmes available for longer, and a BBC Sounds that is innovating and performing.

“No organisation from the smallest shop to the largest multinational will be unchanged by this pandemic, but I believe this is a moment where the BBC can do more than ever for the UK and help us out of this crisis.

“None of us have all the answers today. But I honestly believe that the BBC has demonstrated its unique value to the country, and future change – in whatever form – should always be guided by the values and principles that founded the BBC. They have more than stood the test of time.”

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