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BBC Three online move gets green light from BBC Trust

Wednesday, July 1st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Controversial plans to move BBC Three online have been provisionally approved by the BBC Trust.

Giving its provisional conclusions on plans to axe the channel and move it online, the trust said that the "long-term future of broadcasting is online”.

But it said a move of BBC Three would have to come with a commitment to programmes on BBC One and/or BBC Two that appeal to a younger audience, as well as a commitment to a broadcast space where “risks can be taken”.

The plans have sparked a backlash from fans and celebrities, including a protest outside broadcasting house and a petition attracting hundreds of thousands of signatures.

BBC Three has won a number of industry and viewer-voted awards, and first screened Little Britain and Gavin & Stacey before they crossed over to become prime time BBC One comedy mainstays.

The BBC’s proposals to move it online come alongside plans to launch a +1 channel for BBC One; to evolve BBC iPlayer; and to extend the hours of CBBC.

Provisional conclusions by the BBC Trust come after a Public Value Test, which requires it to judge whether any adverse market impact is justified by the likely public value.

It said this test had been passed for the plan to move BBC Three online, which will save £30m a year.

The BBC Trust said while it approved the proposal, it had identified some concerns about the impact it would have, especially on younger people who do not have reliable broadband, as well as the ability of the BBC to try out new ideas and develop new talent.

'Innovative, distinctive, and relevant'

It could address those concerns by imposing conditions including requirements for material on BBC One or Two that appeals to younger audiences, as well as possibly running both services in parallel for a transition period to make people aware of the move.

Despite provisionally approving the move of BBC Three, the trust said plans for a BBC One +1 channel failed the public value test and should be rejected.

It said Ofcom had found that the launch of a +1 channel would capture viewing share for the BBC at the expense of commercial channels and would have limited public value.

Planned development of BBC iPlayer to include more online-first and third party content was provisionally approved, as well as plans to extend CBBC's hours.

BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead said: "We want a strong, sustainable BBC which is innovative, distinctive and relevant and has clear boundaries with the commercial market.

“We have reached our provisional conclusions with this over-arching objective in mind.

"It is clear that the long-term future of broadcasting is online and the BBC needs to find new and exciting ways to help audiences make that transition, while bearing down on costs overall.”

She said younger audiences are already moving towards the “online future”, but the trust recognised that in the short term some would feel the immediate impact of the BBC Three proposals.

“We are therefore asking the BBC for commitments to ensure it uses the full range of its television services to better serve young people and others who make up BBC Three’s audience,” she added.

The trust has asked for further detailed information on BBC Three by 28 July, which will be included in a further period of consultation before final decisions are taken and published in the autumn.

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