The man in charge of BBC Three has said the decision to move the channel online is “perverse”. 

Zai Bennett, who took over as controller of the digital channel in 2011, said it had won “numerous” awards “on a fraction of the budget of the big boys”. 

Writing on the BBC website, he said: “I do find it slightly perverse that I am writing about the fact the station will cease to be a linear channel from next autumn.” 

The decision to move the channel was announced last week and is expected to save £50 million a year. Over the years, it has been responsible for screening award-winning shows such as Gavin And Stacey and Being Human, as well as launching Little Britain, starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams. 

Mr Bennett, who joined the corporation from ITV, said the online move was “an enormous risk”. He said: “I and the small but dedicated BBC Three team were all shocked, but it is heartening that after the news sank in everyone talked about not only how to make this change work, but how to ensure the new BBC Three is world class.” 

“I am confident that the strength and depth of the existing brand, its talent, its suppliers, its staff and the love of its audience give it more than a fighting chance of not only surviving but truly being a pathfinder for the BBC in the next stage of how audiences consume its content.” 

About 187,000 people have now signed an on-line petition opposing the move – less than a week after the decision was made public. The funding of the BBC is in the spotlight at the moment, with its charter up for renewal in 2017. 

An internal report into the subject recommended increasing the licence fee in line with inflation and raising the amount of money the BBC makes through commercial ventures. 

The corporation is also aiming to make more money through a revamp of the iPlayer, which will allow viewers to access paid-for programmes from a new BBC download service which has been given the go-ahead.