BBC Four and CBBC TV channels to close as part of further cuts at broadcaster
BBC Four and CBBC will end as linear TV channels as part of the broadcaster’s plans to become “digital-first”.
Director-general Tim Davie announced to staff on Thursday that 1,000 jobs will be cut across the public-funded part of the corporation.
BBC World News and BBC News Channel will merge to create a single 24-hour TV news channel serving both UK and international audiences.
Regional TV news programmes in Oxford and Cambridge are also among the services being scrapped – merging with the BBC’s Southampton and Norwich operations.
BBC Four and CBBC are expected to move online to the iPlayer, while Radio 4 Extra could become available on the BBC Sounds service only.
Mr Davie told staff: “This is our moment to build a digital-first BBC. Something genuinely new, a Reithian organisation for the digital age, a positive force for the UK and the world.
“Independent, impartial, constantly innovating and serving all. A fresh, new, global digital media organisation which has never been seen before.
“Driven by the desire to make life and society better for our licence fee payers and customers in every corner of the UK and beyond. They want us to keep the BBC relevant and fight for something that in 2022 is more important than ever.
“To do that we need to evolve faster and embrace the huge shifts in the market around us.”
The first phase of savings represents £500 million annual savings and reinvestment.
As part of this, £200 million will contribute to the £285 million annual funding gap by 2027/28 created by the licence fee freeze.
The remaining gap will be covered in the final three years of the charter period.
The news comes off the back of the BBC needing to save a further £285 million in response to the Culture Secretary’s announcement in January that the licence fee will be frozen at £159 for the next two years.
It has already undergone a series of rounds of redundancies and cuts over the past decade prompted by below-inflation increases in the licence fee.
Mr Davie, who took over from Lord Tony Hall as BBC director-general in September 2020, has overseen a slimming down of the corporation since starting in the role, with the BBC losing some 1,200 staff in the last 18 months.
BBC Four, which is home to BBC Proms, BBC Young Dancer and BBC Young Musician, was launched in 2002 and has traditionally shown mainly arts and documentary content, as well as various international dramas.
However, last year the corporation announced it would become the “home” of archived content and that it would broadcast fewer original programmes.
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We recognise the BBC, just like individual households, businesses and other organisations across the UK, is having to make difficult financial decisions.
“We agree with the Director-General that the BBC should be leaner but it is required to provide television content for children under its operating licence.
“It should prioritise using its £3.7 billion annual licence fee income as necessary to deliver that remit.”
Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, added: “We recognise the need for organisations to change and adapt and welcome the BBC’s commitment to step up to the challenges of a changing media landscape and build a digital-first corporation.
“However, once again we see the impact of poorly judged political decisions on workers as the Government’s decision to freeze the licence fee has instigated these real-term job cuts.
“This announcement lays bare that below the political shrill about the BBC is the reality – hugely talented and dedicated people who work hard to deliver critical services to the nation and beyond are now facing yet more job losses and continued uncertainty.
“Bectu will fully engage in every aspect of these proposals and we will be doing everything we can to support our members. We will be working to ensure that change is not cost cutting for the sake of it, but truly does position the BBC strongly for the future and delivers the best possible outcomes for members.”
The News Media Association (NMA) described the BBC’s proposal to boost its own local news services as “misguided” as it feels it will have a “profoundly negative impact” on independent local news providers.
Owen Meredith, chief executive of the UK’s news media trade group, said: “It is disappointing that the BBC has not taken the opportunity presented to it by the licence fee funding settlement to step back from its misguided plans to boost its own local news services, in direct competition with commercial providers.
“If they go ahead, these proposals would have a profoundly negative impact upon independent local news providers, resulting in a weakening of local news provision in this country.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Culture Secretary issued the BBC with a legal direction ordering it to “promote equality of opportunity” for people from working-class backgrounds.
The stipulation came as part of the mid-term review into its royal charter and includes a target for 25% of staff to be from low socio-economic backgrounds and ensuring 50% of radio and 60% of TV programme production spend is outside London by the end of 2027.
The BBC must also deliver 1,000 apprenticeships per year by 2025 and ensure that 30% of those are from low socio-economic groups.
The corporation also faces uncertainty over the future of the licence fee after Nadine Dorries announced a consultation about the future funding of the broadcaster will begin shortly.
The minister has said she wants to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027 as it is “completely outdated”.