Opinion: New proposals for BBC Three

Opinion: New proposals for BBC Three

With the BBC under pressure to cut costs, Henry Northmore looks at BBC Three's possible future

The BBC has unveiled new plans for BBC Three. The idea of moving the channel online was first floated in March but now more detailed proposals have been announced indicating that broadcast could shut down by autumn of 2015.

When it launched in 2003 the Beeb stated: 'The remit of BBC Three is to bring younger audiences to high quality public service broadcasting through a mixed-genre schedule of innovative UK content featuring new UK talent. The channel should use the full range of digital platforms to deliver its content and to build an interactive relationship with its audience. The channel’s target audience is 16-34 year olds.'

Now that remit might be the very thing that brings down the channel. New proposals argue that moving BBC Three online is the best course of action seeing that the yoof are only interested in playing with their mobiles and tablets (emphasising the line: 'the channel should use the full range of digital platforms to deliver its content'). That's not to dismiss online content, there are some truly talented individuals producing work for the internet, but it's usually when it's picked up and crosses over onto TV that it really makes an impact on the public consciousness rather that the other way round.

BBC Three has been a breeding ground for some truly innovative TV, focusing on comedy and edgy off beat drama. Not everything has hit the mark but it's proved a useful test site for new talent giving them the opportunity to reach millions of homes. Could any other channel really have broadcast The Mighty Boosh?

Admittedly these are hard times, the licence fee has been frozen and tough decisions have to be made. Damian Kavanagh, BBC Three Proposal Lead, was honest enough to say on his recent blog post: 'Let’s be frank, it’s down to money. The BBC will have less money in the future … We simply can’t make the same amount of quality content with less money unless we start salami slicing programme budgets, and we know that’s not good for audiences. New BBC Three would allow us to do fewer shows but bigger, better and in greater depth.'

Focusing on two core concepts 'Make Me Think' (drama, documentaries, news) and 'Make Me Laugh' (pretty self-explanatory) with 80% of the reduced budget going towards making programmes and the other 20% devoted to 'new form digital content' ie shorts, graphics, interactive blogs, etc.

Perhaps this new approach will usher in a new age of high quality online content. The Beeb might be seen as a stuffy institution but iPlayer was, and continues to be, an innovative catch up service. Kavanagh continues: 'It could be a place that gives creative industries an avenue to test how audiences react to new forms of content at scale, content that builds new relationships with younger audiences. It could redefine public service broadcasting in the digital age. New BBC Three could do for digital content what BBC News Online did for take up of the internet, what BBC iPlayer did for the VOD market and what BBC Three did for digital TV a decade ago.'

Though what's interesting is that for once Auntie is announcing the payoff based on the £50 million savings from switching BBC Three from broadcast to online. Firstly the launch of a new BBC One +1 'for those who do not use BBC iPlayer or have access to broadband', and an extra two hours of CBBC programmes every night. Two extra services aimed at the older market (the extension of CBBC might sound like it's targeting the youngest viewers possible but really it's aimed at parents). It's hard not to see younger viewers getting the short end of the stick.

We can all live without Two Pints of Lager or Sweat the Small Stuff but it's hard to imagine that crossover successes such as Gavin & Stacey, Little Britain, Being Human, Cuckoo, The Call Centre or Bad Education would have made an impact squirrelled away on iPlayer. It was the fact they reached beyond the 16-34 year old demographic that turned them into such hits.

It's a bold proposal but public opinion changed plans to close 6Music in 2010. The BBC Trust hasn't made its final decision, however time is running out as they will be meeting on 17 December so if you want to help save BBC Three back the campaign now.

Henry Northmore is The List's TV editor

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