The corporation may not admit it openly, but the channel is widely believed to be lined up for the chop.
The problem to those in charge at W1A is that it doesn’t attract enough young people. Its provision of documentaries, the arts, nostalgia and news simply isn’t sexy or ‘young’ enough.
Instead, more money is likely to be pumped into the return of BBC3 as a ‘linear’ channel. It is the channel that has provided the nation with gems like Fleabag and This Country – but it has also brought us Snog, Marry, Avoid and My Date’s a Bad Date.
The fight for the youth viewer, does, say the BBC critics, miss the point. BBC Four may be considered a ‘highbrow’ service by corporation bosses, but it also provides something unique. And those being targeted by BBC3 are more likely to have their nose buried in Netflix or YouTube than be channel hopping on terrestrial TV.
BBC Four currently airs on evenings-only, but has built up a loyal and engaged audience. Where else would you be able to settle down each night for an art lesson from Bob Ross, or enjoy an evening of historic music performances and documentaries every Friday? Bosses apparently want to close the channel and reallocate some of its £44m budget.
The BBC is facing a £125m gap in its finances after Covid-19 forced the broadcaster to delay a move to end free licences for the over-75s.
BBC Four is a target since it considers its arts and history output plays to a niche audience.
However the channel has also brought foreign-language drama to millions of viewers and created hit comedies such as The Thick of It and its re-runs of shows like Top of the Pops attract healthy audiences..
Channel presenters Lucy Worsley, Waldemar Januszczak and Oxford historian Dr Janina Ramirez have urged viewers to rally around the channel. Dr Ramirez called it “the most amazing channel, unlike any other.”
Some BBC Four programmes, such as its Friday night music documentaries, would be used to beef up the BBC2 schedule, under the plan. BBC Four Controller Cassian Harrison has moved to another role in the BBC and the channel is now under the stewardship of Patrick Holland, the head of BBC2.
BBC Four’s fate could be confirmed by a new BBC Director-General, with Tony Hall’s replacement set to be announced next month.
The channel would then switch to BBC3, four years after the youth channel was closed as a TV service to go iPlayer only, a switch called premature by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.
There is hope for supporters of BBC Four. A BBC plan to close Radio 6 Music a decade ago was reversed after a revolt by listeners and presenters.
It is now the UK’s most popular digital station.
Although BBC Four is watched by fewer than one million viewers on most nights, it has recorded a larger audience than BBC2 on some occasions.
The closure threat has already prompted protests on social media from viewers saying BBC Four is the main reason that they pay the licence fee.
That popular outcry will probably need to grow into a proper movement if the channel is to be spared.
Here are our 10 top reasons to save BBC Four:
The Joy of Painting
Iconic art series from the 1980s starring American painter Bob Ross, and easel and nothing else.
It is a nostalgic and hypnotic 30 minutes of one man’s skill in creating pictures.
Kermode and Mayo’s Home Entertainment Service
Hugely popular Radio 5 show and podcast but on BBC Four, and with TV added to the usual film interviews and reviews.
It follows Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series.
Comedy that built an audience on BBC Four and has become one of the most-loved series of the last 10 years.
Written by and starring Mackenzie Crook it has won a series of Baftas.
Top of the Pops
Weekly replays of the music pro- gramme take a whole generation back to their youth.
Special compilations are also aired, often on a Friday which has become a weekly music night.
Chasing the Moon
Just one of a series of space documentaries that BBC Four digs out from time to time – all of them fascinating.
The recent moon landings anniversary was an excuse for a number of classic programmes to be dusted off and aired again.
The Sky at Night
Show built up by Patrick Moore is still going strong.
A team of astronomers give us an in-depth look at what is on show in the night sky, covering a wide range of general astronomical and space-related topics.
Birmingham Irish I Am
The story of the Birmingham Irish told through film archive and personal memories.
Part of A Very British History, it is a celebration of our Second City and how the Irish have enriched it through the years.
Where else would you get live TV on this subject?
The joy of a very British hobby was brought to us by Peter Snow and his team, revealing the hidden histories, engineering marvels and true pleasures of plane spotting.
Life Drawing Live!
Watching other people draw a life model in real time turns out to be surprisingly compelling viewing as their works are expertly analysed.
Another programme you would not get anywhere else.
BBC Young Musician
Valuable showcase of talent that deserves a national stage.
It is just one of a number of shows championing classical music, including the coverage of the annual Proms.