Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Poll: should the BBC axe a digital channel to save money? [updated]

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Update: this poll was extraordinarily badly-timed, unfortunately, as it now appears BBC Three is for the chop. Feel free to instead leave a comment about this.

There's a rumour BBC3 or BBC4 will be axed soon, as the easiest and fastest way to recoup £100m-worth of savings for the Beeb by 2016. BBC3 costs approximately £85m a year to run, so it's strongly rumoured the BBC will look to turn it into an "online-channel"" accessible through BBC iPlayer. Hey, the kids all love their Netflix streaming, so that makes sense... right?

To be fair, much of this is a little speculative, based on broad comments made by the BBC director general Tony Hall, but it's inevitably stirred feelings online. Purely as a mental exercise, would you rather see BBC3 or BBC4 get the chop?

AOL reported that BBC4's most-watched TV show a fortnight ago was Belgian thriller Salamander (which entertained 1.16m viewers), and BBC's big draw in the same period was another airing of 1998 film Enemy of the State (0.88m viewers). Clearly these channels struggle to attract big audiences, so there's an understandable line of thought that either (or both) could be axed and most of the country wouldn't notice. But there's also another viewpoint that the BBC shouldn't be chasing ratings (although they're a good barometer of which shows are worth using tax-payer's money to fund), as the Beeb should be about providing a service its commercial rivals can't from a business perspective.

Personally, the number of programmes either channel has ever produced, that I've made appointment viewing, can be counted using two hands. And I've been in BBC3's key demographic (16-34 year olds) for most of its existence—although I'm "officially too old" for that channel later this month, boo-hoo.

In a fantasy realm: I'd love to see BBC4 close and its best programmes subsumed by BBC2 (which kind of was BBC4 in its heyday, only with a better budget). I'd keep BBC3 around on television, but try and raise the quality threshold. It's had some great shows over the years (Being Human, Him & Her, Little Britain, Gavin & Stacey, Torchwood, Cuckoo, Mighty Boosh), but most of its big hits are shows that comfortably fit on BBC1 or BBC2. (Indeed, many transferred across to the two "parent channels" during their run. The only shows that really seem to fit solely on BBC3 are, to be frank, the cheap and slightly embarrassing shows that make older people look down their nose at it. Or worthwhile pieces of youth-focused investigations, that I'm not sure youngsters flock to.

Was anyone desperate for a BBC channel aimed at 16-34 year olds before the millennium? Was BBC2's factual output so poor or haphazard that you really needed to introduce BBC4? Wouldn't all the Nordic Noir shows have been even bigger hits on BBC2? Comedy-drama Dirk Gently died on BBC4, but might it have found an audience on BBC2? I just don't feel that people are drawn to BBC4 very naturally, unless they're told about something they need to watch in particular. Ditto BBC3, really.

But what do you think? Would you miss the youth-orientated programming on BBC3? Or the high-brow content of BBC4?