Michael Lyons re-opens debate on future of BBC Three and BBC Four

An open letter from Sir Michael Lyons has re-opened the debate over the future of BBC Three and BBC Four.

An open letter from Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, to the corporation has re-opened the debate over the future of the corporation’s digital channels, BBC Three and BBC Four.

The open letter urges the BBC to do “fewer things better” and warns that planned cut backs at the corporation will not be enough to meet budget shortfalls. Due to last years licence fee freeze – for six years – and the BBC’s additional responsibility now of funding the World Service and Welsh broadcaster SC4 the corporation has affectively taken a huge budget cut.

The Beeb has already implemented budget cuts and service cut backs; the proposed closure of BBC Radio 6 was part of these plans. However, while the future of BBC Radio 6 is secure for now the letter by Sir Michael Lyons does re-open the debate on BBC Three and BBC Four – whether the two channels should be scrapped to save money.

“We do not expect that such efficiencies will fully meet the funding gap alone and some hard choices about content and services may need to be made as part of this process. In line with this, we are clear that the licence fee payer will not be best served by equivalent reductions in each area of BBC activity, rather that savings should be targeted in those areas where the BBC’s public value is lower.
“We also want to emphasise the importance of not compromising your pursuit of greater distinctiveness on the BBC’s main television channels, BBC1 and BBC2, and those radio services that operate in markets where there is the broadest range of commercial provision, particularly Radio 1 and Radio 2. We have also previously signalled that this process is a good opportunity to assess how the shape of the BBC’s television portfolio as a whole might develop after digital switchover is complete in 2012.” – Extract of Michael Lyons letter

BBC Three has been an easy target for critics of the corporation who claim its youth orientated programmes are of low quality and that such audiences are better served by ITV2 and E4.

The critics essential argue that the Beeb should not provide programming for younger audiences but instead concentrate on “family” programming via BBC One and BBC Two. The debate surrounding arts focused BBC Four is on whether it should be merged with BBC Two considering the two channels have similar remits.

Closing BBC Three and BBC Four would save the corporation millions of pounds but the Beeb has repeatedly refused calls to close either station. There have also been calls for the BBC to sell-off BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio Two to commercial companies and shut down digital spin-off stations 5 Live Extra and 1Xtra.

Reducing the BBC’s presence in the digital arena would certainly please BSkyB who are currently targeting the corporation by boosting its arts and drama output – such as the launch of Sky Atlantic. It would also please the Conservatives who have argued in recent years the BBC needs to be cut back and do “fewer things better”.