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BBC Three to go off air and move online in February next year

It was pretty much a done deal already, but it's still a blow for opponents of the move.

Jamie Rigg , @jmerigg
11.26.15
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The writing is well and truly on the wall: BBC Three will cease to exist as a broadcast TV channel from February next year. The plan to take BBC Three off the air and reinvent it online has been a long time coming, as part of an ongoing cost-cutting exercise that may also spell the death of the BBC's Red Button services. The BBC Trust provisionally approved the move this summer ahead of a final review of how the transition to an online-only channel would be handled. Today, the broadcaster's governing body has issued its final decision, formally green lighting BBC Three's digital transformation.

The call the BBC Trust has made is not without opposition. An online petition asserting the move's not within licence fee payers' interests has collected more than 300,000 signatures. Opponents argue the death of the linear BBC Three channel will stifle the kind of creative programming it was known for, leaving the younger, diverse audience it attracted underserved. There is also the fear that long-form shows won't be prioritised as the all-digital BBC Three brand experiments more with bite-sized content for social networks and other online platforms.

Knowing that today's decision isn't the one some were hoping for, the BBC Trust is trying to put some of those worries to bed. Though the TV channel is definitely going dark early next year -- after a transition period running throughout February -- the Trust "has set conditions to ensure younger audiences continue to be well served." This includes a requirement that all BBC Three shows be broadcast on BBC One and Two, and that the surviving channels "offer distinctive programmes designed for younger audiences."

This means that BBC One and Two have to "ensure continued risk-taking and experimenting with new talents and ideas." Basically, they're required to adopt a more BBC Three philosophy -- the kind that led to live eSports coverage being shown by the broadcaster for the first time recently. Other changes agreed as part of today's decision include extended CBBC broadcasting hours, and plans to evolve iPlayer beyond its current remit, including adding "third-party content." Since the Trust has rejected the idea of using the free airwaves from BBC Three's closure to launch a BBC One +1 catch-up channel, the BBC now has three months to come up with a proposal on how it'll repurpose the spectrum.

"There's still time to challenge this sham process."

So, it's now a done deal. BBC Three will be switched off in early 2016. Those behind the campaign to rescue the channel aren't giving up just yet, though. In a statement released following the Trust's announcement, the opposition said: "If the decision can be challenged independently of the BBC and BBC Trust we will do so. With hundreds of thousands on our side there's still time to challenge this sham process."

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