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BBC Three channel set to be axed


Jack Whitehall is backing the Save BBC Three campaign

Jack Whitehall is backing the Save BBC Three campaign

Jack Whitehall is backing the Save BBC Three campaign

Digital TV channel BBC Three is set to be axed as part of the latest bout of cost-cutting at the corporation.

The plans will be announced tomorrow (March 6) but many of its shows, aimed at a younger audience than more mainstream channels, are expected to be transferred directly to the iPlayer.

In a speech last week to the Oxford Media Convention, director-general Tony Hall said the BBC needed to make more cuts but ruled out "salami slicing" from every department and said he wanted to "focus on what we do best".

That sparked speculation that either BBC Four or BBC Three would be axed, and corporation bosses believe BBC Three's audience would be more likely to access content online and that any move to cut the more high-brow BBC Four would face criticism.

An online campaign opposing the move has already been launched and has been backed by some of the stars who launched their careers on the channel.

Jack Whitehall, who wrote and starred in Bad Education on the channel, tweeted: "I really hope reports that the BBC may kill BBC3 are just rumours. Their support of new comedy in particular is vital!"

Little Britain star Matt Lucas said closure would be "really bad for new comedy".

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Any proposal to close the channel or move it wholesale to the iPlayer would have to be approved by the BBC Trust - the corporation's governing body.

The BBC has already experimented with launching shows on iPlayer before mainstream television - a year ago it announced a new sitcom by Peter Kay would have an on-line premiere.

The possible closure echoes the situation in 2010 when the BBC proposed pulling the plug on two of its digital radio services, 6 Music and Asian Network, prompting a backlash from listeners, celebrities and even MPs.

The outlined cuts were as a result of a strategy review which had the aim of shaving millions of pounds from the BBC budget. Figures such as David Bowie, Coldplay and record industry executives gave their support to 6 Music, which at the time cost around £9 million a year to run.

But the publicity surrounding the possible demise had the effect of driving up listening and awareness of the station which at the time was something of a niche concern.

The BBC Trust eventually rejected the closure of 6 Music which has gone on to see its audience treble, with just 600,000 listening before the report, but 1.96 million tuning in according to latest figures. Plans to close the Asian Network were also dropped in the end.

Mr Hall told Radio 4's World At One last October that he would not consider closing a channel to save money. Speaking then, he said: "No I wouldn't consider closing a channel. I think people know that the public feel very strongly about all the services that the BBC does. No, we have to find other ways of prioritising."

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