BBC4 faces AXE: Arts channel bleeding funds as Netflix and £285m black hole hammer Beeb

Andrew Neil describes BBC licence fee as a ‘Straitjacket’

Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, is due to address staff on Thursday after saying earlier this week he would have to look at the volume of material produced by the corporation – a move, it is understood, designed to weather the licence fee freeze at £159 for two years.

The settlement will cost the BBC £285million in funding by 2027, Mr Davie said when the decision was announced in January.

Bosses last year made BBC4, launched in 2002, a home for repeats as they said it would host “the most distinctive content from across the BBC’s archive”.

Mr Davie has repeatedly referenced the strategy applied to the channel, which focuses on arts, documentaries, music, international film and drama, as having freed up resources to invest in BBC2 while avoiding the backlash that involves closing a service.

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BBC building

Licence fee freeze: The BBC has been forced to look at its production volumes (Image: Getty)

But it could now be phased out so as to shift its programmes onto iPlayer, sources told the Mail.

On Monday, Mr Davie told the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee that areas such as podcasting would be targeted as part of the corporation’s savings initiative.

He added that Bitesize, the education service, would be “slightly restrained”, too, to plug the licence fee hole.

Job losses are also on the cards after the boss, who took on the role in September 2020, said the BBC would “have to go further” in reducing staff.

BBC licence fee

The freeze, at £159 for two years, will cost the BBC £285million in funding by 2027 (Image: Daily Express)

Last week, in discussions ahead of a mid-term charter review, Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, said the BBC funding model was the “right model at the right time” back when introduced it was introduced.

Now, though, it is time for a model that is “more effective, modern and fair”, she argued.

Responding to criticism of the review at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Ms Dorries told MPs the existing licence fee was a “regressive tax and it does penalise women and the poor more than it does others”.

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She said: “We’re at a point where we have to wake up and smell the coffee and realise that times are changing rapidly in terms of the broadcasting landscape.

Admitting she did not “have an opinion” on the alternative funding model, the cabinet minister added: “I’m sure that review will be robust and for the first time in a very long time there will be a full exploration of the licence fee, how it works, and what the options are for moving forward in the future.

“Everybody, including the BBC, will be part of that review and can contribute to it. At the ending of the review, as every review does, they will report to me the findings.”

Mr Davie has praised the license fee for “successfully delivering on our values over many years”. Yet, he acknowledged the BBC needs to work on its “aggregated offering” to set it apart from the big US streamers.

He told the Committee: “If you look at any large media organisation, say Disney, they have an aggregated offering and they will have to be dynamic in changing that.

“We have an aggregated offering including radio, local news, sports and entertainment and the challenge for us is to provide value for all.

“BBC iPlayer is not trying to replicate Netflix.”

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