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BBC to cut program budget by 10%

Commissioning to be cut by $200 mil

LONDON — The BBC is to slash its annual TV commissioning budget by around £100 million ($200 million) as part of a huge cost-cutting initiative that will lead to the loss of an estimated 2,500 posts.

The six-year plan, triggered by a less than expected increase to the corp.’s license fee, involves 1,800 redundancies and a 10% cut in original fare by 2012/13.

New jobs are being created in new media as the pubcaster attempts to re-connect with young auds by beefing up its non-linear activities. The corp.’s total spend on websites and other non-linear services is to increase from 3% to 9% of its content budget — and a new commercial BBC.com aimed at international users has been greenlit.

Director-general Mark Thompson, whose strategy is under fire from some of the corp.’s leading broadcasters, confirmed that news and factual departments would be hit hardest. The corp.’s news activities are to be streamlined with the creation of a new multi-media newsroom leading to savings of $310 million over five years and the loss of around 500 jobs.

But programmakers at BBC Vision, which is responsible for the BBC’s TV channels, are to lose more than 700 posts. More than 400 of these will come from factual, which is being reorganized into five specialist groups — science, arts, history, consumer and documentaries.

The hours devoted to factual TV — one of the BBC’s traditional strengths thanks to high-end fare like “Planet Earth” — will be cut by around 11% by next year.

BBC toppers said there would be more repeats and fewer “middling” programs on domestic webs as the corp. attempted to raise its game and focus on high quality.

Thompson sought to reassure staff that the initiative would stand the BBC in good stead for the rapidly encroaching digital era, but there was no mistaking the somber mood as the plans were outlined to media scribes.

He said: “I don’t want to minimize the human consequences of some of the decisions we have reached. But this is not just a story about cuts. It’s about building our future and grasping some amazing opportunities.”

Speaking to staff, the topper added: “Like many of you, I love the BBC and what it stands for. I love it too much to see it drift steadily into irrelevance.”