The £30m drama funding boost handed to BBC1 under the radical changes to BBC3 will be used to commission content that appeals to young audiences, Danny Cohen has pledged.

The BBC director of television told 300 indies on Wednesday that BBC3’s proposed move online next year means that “everyone at the BBC now has an even greater commitment than ever to ensure their work and their services reaches young audiences”.

He admitted that taking BBC3 off-air will result in the loss of younger viewers, but the corporation will attempt to address this through “a number of strategic moves”.

As well as airing BBC3’s online content on BBC1, the main channel’s increased drama budget will be used to commission more young-skewing scripted series. Although the plans are yet to be drawn up, drama controller Ben Stephenson’s ambitions are likely to be more nuanced then simply ordering overtly youth-orientated shows, such as Atlantis.

Cohen also said the BBC3 online debut will be backed by an ambitious marketing campaign. “We will treat the move of BBC3 to an online service as a channel launch with its attendant marketing push. We will be asking the entire BBC to get behind it and make it a huge moment for the corporation,” he said.

Cohen, who himself ran BBC3 between 2007 and 2010, added that the proposed launch of BBC1+1 will also help with efforts to connect with youth, because “all the research shows that +1 channels skew younger”.

‘Break traditional shackles’

The BBC director of television also used his speech to argue that moving BBC3 online will provide the “freedom to break traditional shackles” that exist in linear television. He added that the service will also foster closer ties with BBC Radio 1.

“There is a huge creativity opportunity here to create new formats, new programme lengths and to reach young audiences in an ever growing number of ways,” Cohen said. “What will we learn about the length we want to make each episode of our dramas or comedies, perhaps learning from new market players like Netflix and Amazon.”

The former BBC1 controller also made clear that if the BBC receives another licence fee cut during charter renewal negotiations next year, then BBC4 will fall within the crosshairs of the corporation’s savings initiatives.

He said: “I think that over the last decade or so when the BBC has had to find savings, BBC Management has essentially pushed the problem down on to producers with smaller budgets and longer working hours. Big decisions, big choices have been avoided. I don’t want to do that again.”

“If, for example, the BBC was to receive a cut in its licence fee in 2016-17, we will need to look at BBC4 next in order to ensure we maintain our quality and budget levels on BBC1, BBC2 and the iPlayer.”

Talking TV: The great BBC3 debate