Axe BBC Three, Create BBC One+1? What would the BBC do with the spare capacity?

An announcement about the future of BBC Three is to be made tomorrow, with plans to move the channel off traditional TV platforms, making it online only.

It would become a major U-turn for the BBC's Director General Tony Hall, who announced in October that he "wouldn't consider closing a channel".

BBC Three's budget is £85 million a year, while BBC Four costs £49 million.

There are doubts as to how much money the removal of BBC Three from digital platforms will bring.

BBC Three along with BBC Four share capacity on all digital platforms with children's channels CBBC and CBeebies.

BBC Three starts at 6:58pm, a minute after CBBC closes for the day. The video and audio switches from CBBC to BBC Three and from CBBC's channel number to BBC Three's channel number. The process reverses itself at 5:30am.

With the removal of BBC Three and BBC Three HD (which only launched in December), a slot becomes available from 7pm on the BBC's Freeview and Freeview HD multiplexes and its satellite transponders.

Last year, Tony Hall announced that the corporation would be launching timeshift channel BBC One+1. The empty ex-BBC Three slot could cater for BBC One+1, at least at primetime.

However, there would still be costs involved with listing the channels on all digital platforms, as most platform providers charge a fee for EPG listings. And there would still need to be necessary rights clearances for the +1 channel, to avoid the "sorry, this programme is not available on +1" style captions that still appear on some commercial +1 channels. All this would reduce any cost savings benefit from axing BBC Three.

It would also produce two channels dedicated to repeats - BBC One+1 by nature being a repeats channel, and BBC Four, which this week (Saturday 1st - Friday 7th March) has only around 10 1/2 hours of new content from its approximately 60 hours on air every week (7pm until around 3:30-3:45am).

On top of BBC Two's repeat-led daytime and late evening schedule, this could weaken support from some viewers who already complain that there are too many repeats on the BBC, as well as disenfranchising younger viewers.

Additionally, the offloading of BBC Three content to the iPlayer would not reduce the full cost of the channel, as programmes would still have to be commissioned, produced and paid for.

BBC Three has increasingly been used for sports coverage overspill, with the channel the home of recent Davis Cup Tennis action earlier this year. It was earmarked to provide additional coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, following the channel's successful additional coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

The BBC's main Freeview multiplex (Multiplex 1, also known as "BBC-A" or "PSB1") cannot be used for any non-BBC service, so the BBC would not be able to rent the spare capacity to gain an additional income.

The BBC's main Freeview multiplex:

BBC Three
BBC Three
BBC Four
BBC Four
BBC News
BBC Parliament
(This stream is for Scotland only - and is at the expense of the some of the BBC Radio slots below when ALBA is on air)
BBC RB 301
BBC RB 302 (caption / slate only)
BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1Xtra
BBC Radio 2
BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4extra
BBC Radio 5live
BBC Radio 5live Sports Extra
BBC Radio 6 Music
BBC Asian Network
BBC World Service
BBC Radio Scotland/Wales/Ulster **
BBC Radio Nan Gaidhael/Cymru/Foyle **
BBC Red Button Text / BBC Red Button 200
* In Scotland, BBC Alba shares bandwidth with some BBC Radio stations.
BBC Radio 1,2,3, World Service and Nan Gaidhael give way to BBC Alba from 1700-0000 Mon-Fri and 1600-0100 Sat, 1600-0000 Sun.
** in their respective nations only

Leaving the ex-BBC Three slot empty could provoke the ire of commercial operators due to the high cost of a Freeview slot, and open up the BBC to accusations of it being "wasteful" with its allocated resources.

Any decision to close a BBC channel would have to be given the green light by the BBC Trust. The BBC Trust shot down an earlier proposal to close BBC 6 Music and the Asian Network, following a high profile campaign, which resulted in a boost in 6 Music's audience figures.

Celebrities have started a campaign to save BBC Three using the Twitter hashtag #saveBBC3

Polarised opinions
The news has cast a light on a seemingly big generation gap in the UK and what each generation views as entertainment.

Some BBC Four fans are celebrating the news that BBC Three is set to be axed. Despite having fewer viewers than BBC Three, BBC Four has a highly devoted and politically engaged group of viewers who, like the BBC's Director General Tony Hall, appreciate highbrow arts and culture programming.  They point out that BBC Four broadcasts quality output and that BBC Three is trash.
Junior Paramedics is a factual programme on BBC Three

Many younger viewers in contrast say they find BBC Four's output stuffy, boring and irrelevant. BBC Four viewers point out that BBC Three shows "the same type of programmes" as E4, ITV2 and other youth orientated channels.

But BBC Three viewers point out that E4 and ITV2 don't schedule time for documentaries for young people, such as "Junior Paramedics" (pictured) and political debates for first time voters. BBC Four viewers often dismiss BBC Three's factual output and not being "proper documentaries", highlighting the widening gap and massive differences in taste between the two audiences, and an underlying trend to want to only save services that are personally relevant to them.

And some viewers have concluded that the BBC Three axe is just another cut in publicly funded services at the expense of younger people to satisfy the post-war generation (or Baby Boomers) and to save money to pay for the mistakes of that generation (e.g. potential compensation payouts from the Savile scandal).

Ironically, BBC stalwart David Dimbleby and others have argued that BBC Four and Two should merge, with BBC Two showing "too much gardening and cooking".

Finally, some have argued that there would be plenty of room on BBC One and BBC Two's schedule to take on BBC Three and Four programming if there were less repeats and cheap filler programmes on the main two channels.

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