Plans to move BBC Three online could see the channel’s top job merge with the vacant controller position at the BBC’s internet TV service, iPlayer. BBC Three controller Zai Bennett, along with many other industry figures and viewers, is unhappy at the BBC’s decision to take the popular young adult channel off TV sets and move it online. As a result, campaigns have been started to save the channel. The BBC’s rationale for the decision, which was made public last week, was to cut costs and spread money around other areas of the corporation.
It has also been claimed by BBC insiders that the move is a concession to rival commercial channels such as ITV2 and E4. Both have often claimed that BBC Three, which is part of a leviathan funded by a classified tax known as the license fee, has been entering into the same space and making too many commercial-style shows.
Now Bennett could see his role merged with the controller of iPlayer, which provides catch-up TV as well as radio services. The recruitment process for an iPlayer controller is being spearheaded by the head of director of television, Danny Cohen, who Bennett replaced at BBC Three. Cohen advertised for the post back in October 2013 but it has yet to be filled.
Although no decision has been made to merge the two top jobs, sources at the BBC said the potential move is “under serious consideration” and could happen “way before” BBC Three moves online in Autumn 2015.
“(BBC director general) Tony Hall has long thought that BBC Three would be better suited to online and so merging the two posts makes sense,” said one source. “The fact the iPlayer position is still vacant makes it quite an easy decision to merge the top jobs. It further enhances the BBC’s position in the digital and online space.”
Although it is unclear whether or not Bennett would be handed the dual post, should it arise, it is understood he would be handed first refusal because of the success of his tenure at BBC Three. It is regarded as a leading young adult channel and is the platform that spawned hit comedies, including Gavin and Stacey and Little Britain. It is also the only channel in the UK that screens documentaries and current affairs geared towards a young adult audience. Another key show is Junior Doctors, which takes a look at the new recruits who join the medical profession in what is known as “the killing season” – the period where most of the senior doctors go on vacation and leave patients in the hands of rookies.. The format of Junior Doctors has interested territories outside the UK.
It is thought the BBC will save £50 million by putting BBC Three online with £30 million of that going to BBC One. Now it has been mooted that the top jobs at BBC Three and iPlayer could merge. A BBC spokesman said of the potential merger of the controller roles: “We’ve only just announced the proposals around BBC Three and it’s too early to give detail on a number of areas.”
By Robert Shepherd