The BBC has confirmed that it plans to close modern rock digital radio station 6 Music, following a strategic review of the BBC's digital services.
The review, titled "Putting Quality First," was officially unveiled by director-general Mark Thompson at a press conference at BBC Television Centre today (March 2). The announcement was brought forward following a leak of the proposals last week which prompted outrage from listeners and the music industry.
The proposals in the digital strategy review were drawn up by BBC management and published by the BBC Trust. A 12-week public consultation will now take place, with the Trust taking a final view in the autumn, based upon the public's responses and its own analysis.
The review also includes a plan to close the Asian Network, a speech and music station billed as the "sound of Asian Britain," as well as cutting spending on the corporation's Web sites.
The BBC said 6 Music would close by the end of 2011, if the decision was approved.
Although the closure of 6 Music will only save around £6 million ($9 million) from the publicly-funded BBC's annual £3.6 billion ($5.5 billion) license fee income, the move will appease critics who argue that the BBC is too large and crowds out investment from the commercial sector in new services.
Speaking at the press conference, Thompson said the new strategy would mean that the BBC would "do fewer things better."
"We think this is a moment for focus and rationalization," he said, referring to changes in the digital landscape, where the BBC had led the way in the infancy of the technology. It will also cut spending on its Web sites by 25% and Thompson said the number of sections on its site would be halved by 2013.
Thompson praised national top 40 station Radio 1 for its "concentration on new music" and the "diversity and range" of content, and he said AC network Radio 2 was also doing a good job. He added that Radio 2 should not forget its older audience and so should take a "further step towards distinctiveness" which would give it a clear difference from commercial stations.
However, the closure of 6 Music was confirmed as Thompson said the BBC should move ahead with two national popular music stations rather than three. He described closure as a "very big and painful step" but added that some of its best content could be transferred to other networks such as Radio 2.
"It's an expensive service given its relatively small audience at the moment," he said of 6 Music. He added that management could have attempted to increase the audience - 6 Music has 695,000 listeners as measured by audience reach according to RAJAR - but the station has the "same demographic targeted by commercial mainstream radio" [25-44 year-old music fans] and that "issues of market impact would be too great."
BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons stressed that the BBC only has approval to implement a consultation at present. The Trust will use the consultation responses and its own analysis to form a final verdict on the future strategic framework of the BBC; a provisional view will appear in the summer with the final strategy in the autumn.
The U.K. music industry has already voiced its dismay about the potential loss of 6 Music, which is a key station for helping to break new acts, adding its concern that the commercial sector would not step in with new services to broadcast alternative and modern rock.
BBC 6 Music launched in 2002 as a DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) service, and it is also available online and via digital TV platforms. Its current playlist includes Gorillaz, Vampire Weekend and Mumford & Sons, and part of its remit is to draw on the BBC music archives such as sessions recorded for John Peel.
Before the announcement today, the BBC said that it had received almost 2,400 complaints about the closures of the two stations. A Facebook campaign to save 6 Music has more than 86,000 members - but that is likely to increase after today's announcement.