Upscale channel may focus on arts

Upscale U.K. web BBC4, famed for its biopics on subjects ranging from author Enid Blyton to John Lennon, may be forced to stop commissioning drama as the BBC starts to address budget cuts of £700 million ($1.145 billion), 20% of its coin.

The news comes as the pubcaster finishes up its Putting Quality First review, which aims to deliver fewer, bigger and better shows for less. It’s expected to be published later this summer.

The review, led by BBC Production topper Pat Younge, will specify the activities to be axed as a result of fall’s freeze on the license fee, and added financial responsibilities, including the cost of the BBC World Service.

One possibility is to turn BBC4 into an arts-only channel, dropping its kudos-winning drama and comedy. BBC4 also airs critically acclaimed shows such as “Mad Men” and Denmark’s “The Killing.”

Despite winning awards and rave notices, BBC4, which has an annual budget of $90 million, achieves a slender 1.3% audience share — making it especially vulnerable to cuts.

One possibility is that its drama could be moved to BBC2, which has recently beefed up its fiction portfolio.

BBC4 controller Richard Klein made scant mention of drama or comedy in a program policy published last week.

He said BBC4 should aim “to be British television’s most intellectually and culturally enriching channel, offering an ambitious range of U.K. and international arts, music and culture.”

A spokeswoman for Klein said: “BBC4 has always had a strong backbone of arts, music, culture and knowledge programming. Since strategic review, it has been placing a greater emphasis on the arts and Richard Klein’s statement reflects this.”

The BBC said it was speculative to pre-empt the likely outcome of the review.The BBC added: “We are not going to get drawn into a running commentary – no decisions have been taken and therefore these claims remain speculation. Any decisions coming out of the process would be subject to approval by the BBC Trust.”

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