BBC3 goes online only – sacrificing the young for the old

 

So farewell BBC3.

Unloved by the media, looked down upon by politicians; when the cuts came there was no one to save it from the axe.

Dumbed down, crass, perhaps even idiotic. The charges against it had some merit, after all who will miss Snog, Marry, Avoid?

Well, the target audience.

The channel had a loyal following among 16-34 year olds, in particular the lower end of that demographic.

In an era when young adults increasingly don’t watch linear television, 11.2 million people watched BBC3 each week. A million of them didn’t watch any other TV channel.

And it was more than just post-pub TV.

The channel had a fine record in modern sit-com and comedy drama. Little Britain, The Might Boosh, Gavin and Stacey and Being Human all started out there.

Although Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps perhaps shows that the commissioners didn’t always get it right.

But it was expensive.

Its budget was £86 million in 2014/15 and with the BBC under pressure to save money this was an easy saving to get past middle-aged regulators and the politicians who never watched it.

The BBC argues it’s following the audience online, that it will still spend £30 million on original content for digital delivery and that there will still be repeats on BBC1 and 2.

But when I told my media students it was going online only there were groans all around the room.

Maintaining a brand online is tricky; what will BBC3 mean to the next generation of viewers without a space on the broadcast spectrum?

The BBC needs to appeal to younger viewers and to encourage them to identify with its services and channels.

And the way to do that is not to cut BBC Young in favour of maintaining BBC Old.

 

This is a cross-post of a piece I wrote for the University of Northampton

 

 

BBC Young cut for BBC Old

 

I was on BBC Northampton this morning talking to Helen Blaby about the decision to take BBC3 online only.

I called it what it is: a budget saving decision dressed up as innovation.

You can listen here – starts at about 1h 10

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Axe the BBC World Service not BBC3

Lord Hall’s comments to the Oxford Media Convention that salami-slicing of budgets would have to end has prompted this take from The Daily Mail, suggesting BBC3 or BBC4 will be axed.

Poor BBC3. It’s never been loved by decision-makers. It just doesn’t make programmes that they like, obsessed as it is with subjects like Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents or Snog Marry Avoid?.

But it’s not going anywhere. It serves an audience that’s hard to reach for other BBC TV output and has a decent track record of innovation, especially in comedy. Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and Gavin and Stacey all started out there. It’s also hard to see Director of Television Danny Cohen axing his old alma mater.

And poor BBC4. Loved by the middle-aged and middle-class, it could have become the TV version of Radio 4. But the budgets were never quite big enough, the ambition wasn’t quite large enough and it never really defined itself as anything other than what BBC2 used to be before endless series of Masterchef.

If the Mail is right and a channel is going, and I’d say it’s still a pretty big if, BBC4 is probably the one in the firing line. Although whether the savings are big enough is a reasonable question. BBC4’s budget in 2012/13 stood at £50 million, BBC3’s at £89.9 million. Both of those figures are already being reduced as part of the DQF process.

So, here’s a modest proposal: axe the BBC world Service instead.

Part of the reason why the BBC is having to make savings is the insistence by the government that the World Service’s budget is met from the licence fee rather than direct grant from the Foreign Office. In the next financial year, the first under the new funding arrangement, that will cost £245 million pounds. That’s almost exactly £10 for every licence fee payer. Money that’s spent on producing content for audiences outside the UK. Is that equitable?

People who work at the BBC will insist that the World Service IS the BBC. The keeper of the sacred Reithian flame. But in these days of reduced funding and greater value for money for licence fee-payers is it really justifiable to spend a quarter of a billion pounds on services for audiences who don’t have to pay while cutting services for those who do? I think that’s becoming an increasingly tough position to defend.