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BBC3 has had an audience share of about 1.5 per cent (of the whole audience) although a larger proportion (2.6 per cent) of its target 16 -34 age group, and transmits from 7pm each evening (to 5am the following morning). It was launched in 1998 as BBC Choice and was initially conceived as a ‘catch-up’ channel. It morphed into BBC3 as part of a network-wide restructuring which also saw BBC Knowledge changed into BBC4. BBC3 and BBC4 were launched in 2002. In July 2013, the channels saw HD versions added to their output.
BBC3 has been a fertile breeding ground for new programming, and popular shows such as Little Britain, Two Pints of Lager, and Russell Howard’s Good News. Its break-out hit was Gavin & Stacey, which first aired in May 2007 and went on to achieve mainstream fame on BBC1. It also airs a raft of cult US animation including Family Guy and American Dad.
Last week at the Oxford Media Convention, the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall announced that he did not want to “salami slice” cost savings across all the networks, and instead indicated that the BBC might have to let an entire channel close to avoid lowering programming quality.
Lord Hall said the BBC still had to find immediate savings of some £100 million (€118m) a year. It is looking for £350 million savings a year going forward. According to the BBC report the BBC3 budget last year was £97 million and there would be more costs associated with broadcast and platforms.
The decision will have to be agreed by the BBC Trust which would also have to be subject to public consultation. Inevitably there will be a vociferous and celebrity-fuelled campaign to save the channel of the kind that worked for the very low audience Radio 6 when its closure was proposed.