Is online BBC3 really all that relevant?

Two years since the channel moved online, Grace Dean evaluates whether BBC3 has a future.

Grace Dean
5th March 2018
Image Credit: Unknown (Wikimedia Commons)
Thanks to BBC3, Britain has been gifted many of her much-loved television shows including Gavin & Stacey, Being Human and Little Britain. Two years since the channel’s controversial move online, however, has left me wondering whether BBC3 is really worth our license money.

The BBC3 channel was launched in February 2003 to offer innovative programming to viewers aged 16 to 34 whilst leveraging new British talent. Despite the channel’s success, with 90% of its output originating from UK and 70% being original, the channel ceased operations in February 2016 and converted to an online format as part of the BBC’s £100m budget cut. This decision attracted significant public opposition alongside that from celebrities including Matt Lucas, Jack Whitehall and Daniel Radcliffe.

As an internet television service delivered mainly via iPlayer, BBC3 had a 50% reduction in its programming budget, and thus now focuses on short-form content. Despite this, the online BBC3 still offers similar content encompassing a range of genres. Under BBC3 controller Damian Kavanagh’s direction, however, BBC3 bases its content around three so-called "editorial pillars" rather than traditional programming genres. Comedies and entertainment shows come under “Make Me Laugh”, current affairs and documentaries are covered by “Make Me Think”, and “Give Me a Voice” encompasses shows of topical interest which encourage discussion and active participation.

BBC3 had a 50% reduction in its programming budget, and thus now focuses on short-form content

As an internet television provider, BBC3 benefits the younger audience which generally isn’t catered as well for by BBC1 and BBC2. “Box sets” of former BBC3 programmes are available, while new series of its popular shows are still being released, including Cuckoo, Life and Death Row and People Just Do Nothing. Original content continues to be released as the move online has allowed BBC3 to produce more innovative content while decreasing costs. This has brought many original comedies, dramas and documentaries, including the Doctor Who spin-off Class, Thirteen and Live from the BBC.

With online television viewing becoming more popular due to watch-anytime services, BBC3 is utilising younger audiences’ focus on accessibility and convenience. For those who still prefer linear television, all BBC3 full-length original programming has to be broadcast on the BBC1 and BBC2 television channels following its debut online. BBC3 also allows the BBC to test the water and trial new programmes before broadcasting them on its other channels. This was the case with Torchwood, which debuted on BBC3 in 2006 and, following its success, was moved to BBC2 and ultimately BBC1, and Russell Howard's Good News has a similar history.

BBC3 is utilising younger audiences' focus on accessibility and convenience

Despite this, there is still criticism about whether BBC3 should even exist in its current online form. As well as its audience being limited to those who can stream programming online, the content’s quality is argued to have declined due to budget cuts. The BBC has tried to fill the gap in the market by requiring BBC1 and BBC2 to broadcast "distinctive programmes designed for younger audiences"; this then surely defeats the point of having BBC3 too? The move online has also cost BBC3 many of its most popular shows, including Don’t Tell the Bride, which moved to Sky1, and Family Guy, which moved to ITV2.

Despite this criticism, Kavanagh is still optimistic about the future of BBC3, with a target of reaching 10% of all viewers aged 16-34 by 2020 (this figure is currently 8.5%). “I feel an enormous sense of pride about what the BBC3…have achieved,” he said. “We’ve more than doubled our total brand reach and seen phenomenal growth on social platforms producing original content with true public purpose.”

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AUTHOR: Grace Dean
Editor-in-Chief of the Courier 2019/20, News Editor 2018/19, writer since 2016 and German & Business graduate. I've written for all of our sections, but particularly enjoy writing breaking news and data-based investigative pieces. Best known in the office for making tea and blasting out James Blunt. Twitter: @graceldean

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