Some rambling thoughts about BBC Three

So the word is that BBC Three is about to go online-only as part of cost-cutting at the BBC. It’s a channel I’ve uh, notably mocked, but think matters.

And the future is “online only”. But that’s fine, they’ll still exist on iPlayer! Except one of their most popular shows (Family Guy) because they don’t have online rights. But the real cut will be to the content. To make any meaningful savings they’ll have to violently attack the programming budget – which they’re aiming to save £60 million by. How losing the majority of the budget for content will allow the station to just move online as if nothing happened is nonsense, so you’re effectively killing it apart from a few occasional online-only shows.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing how it’s announced, because regardless of what they’re doing, how will it look? Will it just look like they don’t care about young people and the old guard are killing it to save poncy arts and dramas? Turns out yes, as Tony Hall said half of the money is to pay for BBC One drama. Well played to keep the youth audience on side.

The online strategy is interesting, but obviously it’s not so simple. There’s so many issues of access and how will people find content.

There’s been good experiments in online first content from BBC Three, recently Bad Education. It was highly successful, but it already had an audience – how will they ensure discovery of new, experimental, difficult or different programmes? That’s if they can access them at all – TV viewing online is “the future” but things aren’t as advanced as often thought… and digital TV is so important for young audiences, as 1xtra’s listening figures show.

Depending on how they do this, it could be too soon. Or leading the curve.

But I think the “debate” has been framed slightly wrong so far. The way it’s been seen the last few months is “BBC 3 vs 4 – which one dies?!” – and if you’re going to make a big cut (as Tony Hall has seemingly decided), then REALLY think big.

I think that a way they could make this work is if the BBC, while doing this BBC Three fiddling, seriously repositions all the other channels. Not just “we’ll do more comedy on 2”, they need to rethink exactly what all of them are about – and make changes.

Maybe it’s still doing big things on BBC One but think about some of the sheer crap on there and restart. Maybe make BBC Two a bit less twee and more edgy at times, more comedy. Move some BBC Two stuff between BBC One and BBC Four. You can’t just make little moves – to keep actually serving those audiences and making things like that, the purpose of ALL the channels needs to be rethought a bit.

Right now, it’s hard to believe the idea that some BBC Three shows will survive on other channels as being a meaningful step towards that – it’s just a little bit of fiddling. It doesn’t look like it’s anything but a sacrifice. Saying you’ll repeat the documentaries on BBC One and Two is also missing the point, why shouldn’t those services be encouraged to create such content in the first place themselves too?

But besides, no-one will really miss 100 Snobbiest Tiny Mistakes Being Sarcastically Listed. So maybe some slimming down isn’t such a bad idea… as long as they slim down the other things that need it too.

If it happens at all.

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