The two men making a bid to buy BBC3 – Hat Trick boss Jimmy Mulville and Avalon MD Jon Thoday – say the BBC has made a major commitment towards boosting diversity with new targets, but by closing BBC3 as a linear channel, it risked losing British television’s most diverse audience.
“It’s about to close a channel that speaks to a more diverse audience mix than any other. In one fell swoop, it will become more middle-aged, more middle-class and more white”.
Moving BBC3 online means “a move into oblivion,” said Mulville, describing the move, which has yet to be approved by the BBC Trust, as a “scandal”.
The pair have been criticised for acting out of self-interest and attempting to make a profit out of breaking up the BBC.
However, in a passionate talk at a Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast today, the pair said they wanted to collaborate with the BBC to protect a service that had benefited from £1bn investment over the past 10 years and was a vital gateway for new ideas and talent.
“We’re happy not to make any money from it,” said Thoday, who suggested it could operate as a statutory corporation in the same way as Channel 4, ploughing profits back into the channel and the sector and encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to enter the industry.
The pair said they believed the BBC was making a “huge mistake” that would be mourned for generations to come.
Said Thoday: “We are in the business of producing television shows. Neither of us wishes to own a channel. We are doing this because we seriously believe the BBC is making a mistake.”
They also warned the channel’s closure would negatively impact the amount of money earmarked for younger viewers by the likes of ITV and E4.
Their £100m bid has been dismissed by the BBC which states it is “not for sale”, but they argue that the BBC has failed to consider alternatives, including approaching UKTV.
They are poised to discuss their bid with the BBC Trust, which could deliver an interim decision in as little as a month, and say the best outcome would be for the Trust to reverse the plans.
“We’re not attacking the BBC, we’re attacking the policy, we just want them to stop and think,” said Mulville.
The pair acknowledged challenges over branding and rights but said they were surmountable. Retaining the BBC3 brand was not a necessity they said, although pointed to AMC’s retention of the BBC America brand following its purchase of a 50% stake in the channel in October.
They also suggested the idea of launching BBC1+1 in BBC3’s EPG was not in viewer’s interests and that a prime slot should not be inhabited by a catch-up service.
Admitting that negotiations over rights would be complicated, they nevertheless said an agreement was “entirely achievable” as evidenced by the continuing discussions between the BBC and indies over digital rights.
Mulville and Thoday said value was already being taken out of BBC3 as programmes shift to BBC2 and commissioning budgets dwindle, suggesting the move was politically more expedient than axing a service like BBC4.
“Let’s hope they have a BBC6 moment – an epiphany,” said Mulville.