BBC Four to become archive channel as cost-cutting drive continues

BBC Four is to cease commissioning new programmes and become an archive-focused channel as part of the ongoing major cost-cutting drive across the corporation.

Once the home of acclaimed original shows such as Charlie Brooker’s Wipe franchise, the Emmy-nominated drama Burton & Taylor and the Bafta-winning comedy Detectorists, BBC Four will now be repositioned as the “home” of archived content, the broadcaster confirmed.

While it is not being shut down altogether, the overhaul means the channel will no longer commission original content, but will continue to broadcast performances such as the BBC Proms, BBC Young Dancer and BBC Young Musician.

Publishing its annual plan for 2021/22, the corporation said the channel would “become the home of the most distinctive content from across the BBC’s archive”.

It is the latest in a long line of cuts being made across the BBC, which five years ago set itself a target of saving £800m a year by March 2022.

The annual plan revealed the BBC had delivered £880m of annual recurring savings since 2016/17, beating that target a year ahead of schedule.

But while its annual savings are expected to rise above £950m by March next year, the BBC warned that the hardest cuts are yet to come and “further savings will involve difficult choices that will impact programmes and services”.

While the corporation announced plans last week to double its arts and music spending on BBC Two, it annual plan stated that “this approach will necessitate a shift away from commissioning a high volume of lower cost programmes on BBC Four, which are less effective at reaching audiences on the channel and on iPlayer”.

The channel will “become the home of the most distinctive content from across the BBC’s archive”, the 69-page document said. “The proposed changes to BBC Four will build on the channel’s current archive content offer which already comprises 76% of BBC Four’s broadcast hours and 69% of the channel’s broadcast viewing hours.” The changes will also require regulatory approval, the BBC added.

The report also contained further details about the return of BBC Three as a linear television channel next year. The channel ceased operations in 2016 and was replaced by an online-only version available via the iPlayer, but this is due to be reversed. According to the annual plan, BBC Three will broadcast from 7pm to 4am daily subject to regulatory approval once it returns to television screens.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen demand for the BBC soar, with the annual plan also revealing that 90% of UK adults used the broadcaster’s services each week, and a record 33 million people visited its online services every week, including iPlayer.

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