What will BBC Three’s move online mean for TV?

BBC Three, television, media, online, Tayler Finnegan, Kettle Mag
Written by Tayler Finnegan

Since its launch in 2003, BBC Three have provided eye-opening documentaries and cutting-edge comedies to an otherwise safe, traditional set of BBC TV listings. The feisty younger relative of traditional Auntie Beeb, the channel attracts viewers that mostly fall between 16 and 34, though it is particularly popular with under-25s.

In keeping with this, BBC Three have been the trailblazers in bringing to the corporation programmes that inform, educate and entertain- all tailored for a younger audience.

In February 2016, BBC Three is set to move online-only, and all of its programming will stream from the iPlayer service.

When it was announced in 2014 that the channel was set to close, hundreds of stars and producers fought against the decision.

The BBC Trust, the body that governs the BBC, have justified the move to online streaming by claiming that there is clear evidence that under-25s have been watching far less “traditional” TV over the past two years. This, combined with the fact that the BBC must save money, has meant that the youth-oriented channel is no longer going to be a fixture on television.

Teenagers spend a lot of time online, thanks to the rise of countless forms of social media, so monopolising on the digital market is a good idea. Speaking last year after the consultation on BBC Three’s future concluded, Rona Fairhead, chair of the BBC Trust, said it was imperative that the broadcaster needed to find ways to make that transition.

“It is clear that the long-term future of broadcasting is online,” Fairhead said. “The BBC needs to find new and exciting ways to help audiences make that transition, while bearing down on costs overall.”

How will this impact the future of television?

For television overall as a means of entertainment, however, the move could be an ill-fated one. The budget for scripted BBC Three comedies, which in the past have achieved massive success, such as “Gavin and Stacey”, “Uncle” and “Bad Education”, will be less than a quarter of its current level.

The transition to online, then, seems futile: young people want fresh and current content, and if the budget is cut then the popular shows of years gone by will not be rivalled. In fact, it is likely that the audience that the BBC want to attract will not even sample the all-new online-only channel if there is nothing new offered by the corporation.

The move makes BBC programming less diverse. Whether you like the content that BBC Three broadcast or not, there is no denying that it is some of the most brave and audacious. Last month, presenter Reggie Yates investigated some of the issues that face modern masculinity in Britain-with his Extreme UK series, with the parts ‘Gay and Under Attack’, ‘Man at War’ and ‘Dying for a Six Pack’. The series received rave reviews and Yates has become a firm favourite thanks to his involvement in these real-life documentaries.

Two independent producers, Jimmy Mulville and Jon Thoday, who offered the BBC £100m to buy the channel last year said that the corporation’s plans to move BBC Three online would be the “kiss of death” for the channel and would “in one fell swoop make the BBC more middle aged, more middle class and more white, and that is a scandal.” 

A review of BBC television by the Trust in 2014 detected a that reach to black and minority ethnic viewers dropped 5 per cent since 2011.

The channel’s new home, BBC iPlayer, has long been marketed as a catch-up service, designed for those for us who simply must catch up on the latest episode of EastEnders. It is convenient, but not an amazingly enjoyable experience for most. As the iPlayer is available on smartphones and tablets it is extremely accessible, and so often utilised by travellers and commuters. For those aged between 16 and 25 it is entirely likely that the media player will only be accessed out of necessity: to watch a missed show and not to enjoy new content.

Will the move online drive away younger audiences from the BBC?

The BBC Trust aims take advantage of the increase in young people using online services, but in doing so they risk alienating them- something that is not in keeping with their mission statement. The BBC’s appeal to young people has been knocked yet again as popular American sitcom “Family Guy” is to be broadcast exclusively on ITV2, ITV’s own youth-oriented channel. In the Trust’s own analysis, the BBC’s reach among 16- to 24-year-olds could fall by to 3.5 per cent.

New season ‘One Click Away’ looks set to attempt to bring an increase in young audience figures as it looks at the dangers of social media presence.

Some of the £30m budget that will remain after BBC Three is taken online will be redirected towards drama on BBC One, which currently has a budget of around £1bn.

BBC One are already the providers of top quality performances with stellar casts, and the recent move to dramatise literary masterpieces has seen “Dickensian”, “And Then There Were None”, and “War And Peace” all broadcast within the last month. It is fair to assume, then, that more young people have been exposed to classics from Dickens, Christie, Tolstoy et al, which can only be a good thing.

Moving BBC Three online could alienate them from watching television in general. If the few programmes they have interest in are only obtainable online, they may never stumble across the exciting, educational and thought-provoking pieces such as these.

The transition begins next month, and so time will tell whether the BBC Three’s target audience, 16 to 34 year-olds, will stay loyal to the channel, and whether three is still a magic number.

What do you think? How will the future of the BBC be impacted by the move online of BBC Three? Have your say in the comments section below.