Sunday, 28 August 2011

Saving BBC4

Like many other people over the previous two weeks I have been concerned about the future of my favourite BBC channel, BBC4. I love music, European crime drama, historical documentaries and even the odd scientific one too - especially if the lovely Jim Al-Khalili is presenting it. I laughed and nearly cried at Jo Brand's BAFTA winning nurse Kim in 'Getting On'. It is the channel I am most likely to watch.

Drastic cuts are being contemplated for this channel. It is expected that innovative drama and comedy made for BBC4 will be the first to face the axe. I hope that there will be funds available for the purchase of future foreign language drama series such as The Killing, Engrenages (Spiral) and the quirky Montalbano series (which now runs to 22 episodes, only 3 of which have ever been aired on British TV). But the future does not look bright for BBC4.

I understand the BBC has commissioned Ernst & Young to review BBC4 with a view to suggesting where savings can be made. This report will not come cheap and I can only assume that E&Y must have a particularly strong Media specialist division if they have been selected for this exercise. Now, I have no media background so I am unqualified to advise anyone but, as I am giving this suggestion away for free, I hope that maybe someone will listen.

First of all, I'm not sure why BBC4 is being considered in isolation here. The channel developed out of the older BBC Knowledge channel which was set up at the beginning of the 2000s with the introduction of digital Freeview channels. It was seen as being a digital extension to the quality programming that was then being shown on the analogue channel BBC2. Since then digital TV has become the norm rather than the exception for most TV viewers and over the next decade the analogue signals themselves will be phased out in the UK. There will only be digital channels available to watch. Why then is the digital only channel, BBC4, being considered in isolation when it shares so much common ground with the best of BBC2 broadcasting?

Surely it would all make more sense to look at BBC2 and BBC4 together. If the proposed budgets of the two channels were amalgamated they could be divided up between both. One channel could perhaps take on the programming for music, news and sport (including Top Gear) while the other specialised in drama (innovative and bought from overseas broadcasters) and documentaries. This is just a suggestion - there are probably many ways in which the sort of programmes assigned to the two channels could be allocated.

I would be a pity if the future of the excellent BBC4 were at risk merely because of lack of longer-term strategic thinking in the BBC as a whole.

(The petition to Save BBC4 can be found on