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BBC3 set to be axed in latest bout of cost-cutting at BBC

Digital TV channel BBC3 is set to be axed as part of the latest bout of cost-cutting at the corporation.

The plans will be announced tomorrow but many of its shows, aimed at a younger audience than more mainstream channels, are expected to be transferred directly to the iPlayer.

In a speech last week to the Oxford Media Convention, director-general Tony Hall said the BBC needed to make more cuts but ruled out "salami slicing" from every department and said he wanted to "focus on what we do best".

That sparked speculation that either BBC4 or BBC3 would be axed, and corporation bosses believe BBC3's audience would be more likely to access content online and that any move to cut the more high-brow BBC4 would face criticism.

An online campaign opposing the move has already been launched and has been backed by some of the stars who launched their careers on the channel.

Jack Whitehall, who wrote and starred in Bad Education on the channel, tweeted: "I really hope reports that the BBC may kill BBC3 are just rumours. Their support of new comedy in particular is vital!"

Little Britain star Matt Lucas said closure would be "really bad for new comedy".

Any proposal to close the channel or move it wholesale to the iPlayer would have to be approved by the BBC Trust - the corporation's governing body.

The BBC has already experimented with launching shows on iPlayer before mainstream television - a year ago it announced a new sitcom by Peter Kay would have an on-line premiere.

The possible closure echoes the situation in 2010 when the BBC proposed pulling the plug on two of its digital radio services, 6 Music and Asian Network, prompting a backlash from listeners, celebrities and even MPs.

The outlined cuts were as a result of a strategy review which had the aim of shaving millions of pounds from the BBC budget. Figures such as David Bowie, Coldplay and record industry executives gave their support to 6 Music, which at the time cost around £9 million a year to run.

But the publicity surrounding the possible demise had the effect of driving up listening and awareness of the station which at the time was something of a niche concern.

The BBC Trust eventually rejected the closure of 6 Music which has gone on to see its audience treble, with just 600,000 listening before the report, but 1.96 million tuning in according to latest figures. Plans to close the Asian Network were also dropped in the end.

Mr Hall told Radio 4's World At One last October that he would not consider closing a channel to save money.

Speaking then, he said: "No I wouldn't consider closing a channel. I think people know that the public feel very strongly about all the services that the BBC does. No, we have to find other ways of prioritising."

Moving the channel's content to the iPlayer would also fit with Mr Hall's previously announced plan to extend the licence fee to cover people watching BBC programmes online.

At the moment the £145.50 fee is payable by everyone in the UK who watches or records BBC programmes when they are shown - meaning the on-demand iPlayer is not included.

He told the Oxford convention: "Our view is that there is room for modernisation so that the fee applies to the consumption of BBC TV programmes, whether live on BBC One or on-demand via the iPlayer."

The last BBC annual report said the channel reached 29% of its target audience of 16-34 year olds each week and "continued to deliver high quality" programmes and "very successful new comedies".

The corporation spent £89.7 million on content on BBC3 in 2012/13, more than the £50 million spent on content on BBC4, but its costs per user hour were 6.6 pence, making it cheaper than both BBC2 and BBC4 by that measure.

BBC Three started broadcasting in 2003 and has been the launch pad for some the corporation's biggest shows and some of its most controversial.

The hits

Gavin and Stacey - The sitcom story of an Essex boy and a Welsh girl's relationship started on the channel in 2007 before moving over to BBC1 where it became a massive mainstream hit and made stars of writing and acting duo Ruth Jones and James Corden.

Little Britain - The sketch show and its stars, David Walliams and Matt Lucas, made two series before moving over to BBC1 and even inspired an American version Little Britain USA.

Our War - The documentary, which used footage filmed by British soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan, won a TV Bafta last year.

The misses

Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife - The show which starred the former daytime TV favourite helping make hopeless housewives house-proud ran for three series.

Coming of Age - The BBC described the comedy as a "frank look" at teenage life, but some people could not bear to look, with one critic calling it the "worst sitcom ever".

Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents - The show followed teenagers on their first holidays without their parents, who were in fact following their every move with secret cameras. One newspaper accused it of blazing a "vomit-flecked" trail for subsequent shows.

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