Saturday, 8 March 2014

BBC axe BBC Three; youth channel to end transmission autumn 2015

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Things happen fast in the world of entertainment. What started as rumours based on a brief comment from BBC Director General Tony Hall resulted in the loss of BBC Three days later. The digital channel that began life 11 years ago will shutdown in autumn 2015, to be remodelled as a "new and innovative online service", if the BBC Trust approve.

The axing of BBC3 will save the Beeb £50m, of which £30m will be spent directly on BBC1 drama. The available broadcast space left by BBC3 will be used to create another time-shift channel, BBC1+1, and extend CBBC's service by an hour.

The interesting thing about all this is the belief BBC3's target demographic (16-24's) will happily migrate to the BBC iPlayer—where BBC3 has successfully debuted a few choice programmes before traditional broadcast. I can see the thinking behind this, as they're more likely to than BBC4 viewers, although accessing television through online streaming just isn't as convenient or reliable as a free-to-air TV channel. Well, today. The BBC have admitted they would have preferred to evolve BBC3 into becoming an online exclusive over a number of years, where it's thought the TV landscape will have changed as more people get used to Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video apps on their tablets, PCs and smart TVs.

The opportunity to create a BBC-style Netflix when the best of BBC3's output moves to the iPlayer isn't a total folly, to my mind, but it will need a lot of marketing to get right. And if the impetus of this change is to save cash, I can't see the BBC giving "Three Online" serious promotion beyond announcements on BBC1 and BBC2 that "exclusive online content" is now available there.

Naturally, the closure of a BBC channel has caused a big stir. When you have something, its loss can be painful and aggravating. Just the threat of loss can cause you to realise how much you actually value something, despite the fact it gave the world Snog, Marry, Avoid. In an ideal world, I'd like to see BBC3 continue as it is, but if the BBC have to save money it's hard to disagree its loss makes a lot of sense. Most of its better programmes are natural fits for the mixed audiences of BBC1 or the cult/highbrow BBC2 audience, so I fully expect the cream of BBC3 output to find a new home.

It's already been announced that a lot of popular BBC3 shows will later air on BBC1 or BBC2 in a post-10pm timeslot, which is something that's been tried before with repeat airings when digital TV wasn't as prolific, and got better ratings.

Of course, the existence of BBC3 did send a clear message that the Beeb cares about the youth of Britain. They had their own channel with enough schedule time to appeal to a diverse crowd. Will that audience follow BBC3 online because technology's their thing, or is it still perceived as a snub? Will there come a time when online content doesn't feel a second-best option? Again, maybe the fast rise of Netflix and other such services will gradually erode the barriers, so BBC3 Online won't actually feel like such a bad idea in 2017 or 2020.

Britain's 16-34 year olds abandoned by BBC3 in its current form still have Channel 4's youth channel E4, too. I wonder if E4 will be the real winner here, as BBC3 viewers immediately head there for linear entertainment the traditional way. Or hey, maybe E4 won't look so cool in 5 years when all the under-34s are merrily gorging themselves on BBC comedy/drama the Netflix way?

Do you have any thoughts about this? Are viewers getting upset over nothing, given how a lot of BBC3's content will still be available and a TV broadcast of its best shows will happen? Could it thrive online? Or will this leave a gaping hole in the BBC's output and send a strong anti-youth message?