The BBC 3 bashing that has saturated social media and opinion pieces this week has been astounding in its voracity and ignorance of the kinds of shows that BBC 3 has shown over the years. While a strong case has been made for new, emerging comedy being showcased on the channel, and this being why the channel should remain as a Freeview channel, others have focused only on the reality TV shows that take up considerable air time and this being why it should stop being broadcast. Many have said thank goodness it’s not BBC 4 that’s going. Far too few have referenced genre shows like Being Human and Fades, both of which were excellent during their time on the channel.
Online is no real substitute
BBC Director-General Tony Hall has announced that BBC 3 will move online only in autumn 2015. This will apparently save the company money and leaves the only free-to-view 16-30 focused channel to remain on air Channel 4’s E4 channel. Both BBC3 and E4 have recently experimented with online only programming or releasing shows online first, but Channel 4 isn’t chucking in the broadcast towel with E4 any time soon. Hall said
“I believe it’s the right thing to do: young audiences – the BBC Three audience – are the most mobile and ready to move to an online world. 25% of viewing by 16-24 year olds is to catch-up or other screens and over the next few years we expect that to reach 40%.”
So even though a majority of BBC 3’s audience won’t be viewing online in the next few years, they’re shifting distribution anyway. The move will apparently save £50 million a year for the BBC and they expect to put £30 million of that into drama on BBC 1. I really do feel like younger adults are getting shafted in this move and in some ways they are really making it difficult to justify to under-30s why they should pay the TV license once they’re living away from their parents.
Also, not everyone has decent internet connections. Despite the various initiatives to improve the nation’s online infrastructure, none of them really go far enough to make the shifting of audiences online a viable option.
They’re not looking to improve BBC 3
The channel does have a quality problem. While some of the reality TV shown has been in the form of detailed and emotive documentaries, too much has been of the Don’t Tell the Bride ilk, not serving any purpose other than allowing for cheap telly. To me it seems that BBC 3 has been under invested in for years. When it launched, I loved shows like Celebdaq and I played the online celebrity stock exchange right up until the closure of the online service. Later on, I grew to love Fades which won a frelling BAFTA for Best Drama before being cancelled.
At the time of Fades not being renewed, channel boss Zai Bennett defended the series being axed by saying that it wasn’t being watched by the channel’s 16-32 target demographic, but instead by much older viewers. Well, I can tell you now that I watched the show and I was and still am in their target demographic. But then apparently around the time of Fades getting the chop funding for drama on BBC 3 was also reduced.
Moving online just seems to be an excuse to slowly reduce producing content for people of my age, and certainly drama, because it’s more expensive and the online shift is a cost cutting exercise. And the stupid thing is that people my age do like drama. How many 18-30 somethings have you heard talk about shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards or Game of Thrones? Loads. Absolutely loads – young people do like quality programming. I could have been happy with the shift if it was guaranteed the channel would get some content of a level to rival a few paid services, but this won’t happen.
I can’t see any of this being turned around. BBC 3 has been abused for years by the higher ups of the BBC. Those behind the wheel seem to be making some unfounded assumptions about the youth audience, and as part of their audience it really does not gel with my reality. While comedy may still get a chance to shine, drama on the channel stands no chance and that extra drama budget for BBC 1 will clearly not go towards shows that appeal to my demographic, the continued output of crime drama shows is evidence to this.
I can only hope that Channel 4 see this as an opportunity to step up their game with E4, either by importing more drama and comedy series or actually commissioning more original drama and comedy. I really do hope that they see this as move to trump the BBC and justify the license fee money they also get a bit of.
But if there’s one thing this whole episode has made me believe more is that the BBC is mainly run by a bunch of people who have no real connection with the audiences it gets public money to serve.
There’s currently a petition running on change.org to protest the move. It has over 100,000 signatures so far, but still needs more.