CBBC, BBC Four and Radio 4 Extra will shut down and become online-only services, the corporation has said, as part of plans to close television and radio channels in order to focus on streaming services.
The BBC director general, Tim Davie, made the announcement on Thursday, in response to the culture secretary Nadine Dorries’s decision to freeze the licence fee at £159 for the next two years.
He added that many of the World Service’s foreign language services would go online only, while the existing UK-focused BBC News channel will merge with BBC World to form a single global rolling TV news service.
Radio 4’s long-wave service, known as the traditional crackly home of Test Match Special and the shipping forecast, will lose its dedicated programming before being shut down altogether.
There will also be cuts to local television and radio services in England, although the BBC insisted the overall budget for local journalism would be maintained – with spending instead redistributed towards hiring journalists to produce online content.
The vast majority of the BBC’s spending is focused on its traditional broadcast television and radio channels while audiences are shifting online.
The BBC said about 1,000 jobs will be lost at the broadcaster over the next few years, with the latest announcement af years of redundancies and cuts.
Davie told staff they had to accept a need to shift away from traditional television and radio channels and invest in programmes made specifically for services such as iPlayer and BBC Sounds.
He said: “This is our moment to build a digital-first BBC. Something genuinely new, a Reithian organisation for the digital age, a positive force for the UK and the world. To do that we need to evolve faster and embrace the huge shifts in the market around us.”
The licence fee freeze requires the BBC to find £285m in annual savings. Davie has instead decided to go much further than required and cut the budget for existing television and radio services by £500m, with the extra savings being invested in new digital-only services.
Many of the announcements are likely to face strong opposition from viewers, staff, and politicians. Davie has experience of this, having announced plans in 2010 to shut down the 6Music and Asian Network radio stations – only to backtrack in the face of public opposition.
The changes to the World Service may be of particular concern to the government, which it views as a key tool of British soft power overseas. However, ministers stopped funding the World Service as part of a series of funding cuts imposed on the BBC by successive Conservative-led governments, making it hard for ministers to stop the closures.
Among the other closures, shutting down BBC Four and making its content iPlayer-only could face strong opposition from its loyal audience. It has been essentially an archive-only channel in recent years, but its diet of vintage architecture programmes and old episodes of Top of the Pops has beaten youth-focused BBC Three – which only relaunched as a channel a few months ago – in the ratings.
Merging the corporation’s two existing rolling television news channels is also likely to result in a reduction in the amount of UK-focused content.
Television ratings for CBBC have been hit hard as children of primary school age drift away to streaming services such as YouTube. There are no plans to shut down the CBeebies television service, which is aimed at preschool children.
Local radio stations will share more programmes, while some local television news bulletins – including those produced in Oxford and Cambridge – will be shut down.
Several million Britons – often older and poorer people – do not have access to the internet, while many more do not have the home broadband required to access streaming services. These groups could be hit hardest by any cuts to the BBC’s traditional radio or television broadcast services.
Closing Radio 4’s long-wave service was last suggested in 2011, although in the end the BBC did not shut it down. The decision to end the service – which for many is synonymous with cricket commentary on hot summer days – could also cause issues for Britain’s nuclear weapons programme. It has long been speculated – although the Ministry of Defence recently declined to comment on the veracity of the claim – that the UK’s submarine fleet regularly checks to see whether it can receive Radio 4’s long-wave output, as a sign that the nation is still functioning.