Why the axe had to fall on BBC 3, teen television

BBC 3's Bad Education was the fourth most watched programme on i-player. Pictured: (l-r, back row-fr

BBC 3's Bad Education was the fourth most watched programme on i-player. Pictured: (l-r, back row-front row) CHARLIE WERNHAM as Mitchell, LAYTON WILLIAMS as Stephen, NICKI RENECKLES as Chantelle, SARAH SOLEMANI as Miss Gulliver, MATHEW HORNE as Fraser, JACK BINSTEAD as Rem Dogg, ETHAN LAWRENCE as Joe, JACK WHITEHALL as Alfie and KAE ALEXANDER as Jing. - Credit: PA

And so BBC 3 is to close as a TV channel after 11 years.

On a bicycle made for two - Stars of the BBC TV comedy "Little Britain", Matt Lucas and David Wallia

On a bicycle made for two - Stars of the BBC TV comedy "Little Britain", Matt Lucas and David Walliams on a tandem filming on the promenade at Southwold. This much loved series was nurtured and developed on the BBC youth channel.

The announcement was made this week as part of an extensive cost-saving exercise. BBC director-general Tony Hall has been charged with saving £100million from his budget and has promised no more salami-slicing cuts which are starting to threaten the quality and scope of BBC output – particularly in the drama department.

Instead he promised he would be having to make some hard decisions and the BBC couldn’t stay the same.

Commentators have speculated that this was code for either BBC 3 or BBC 4 facing the chop and it seems that BBC 3 lost the battle.

Looking at the broadcast landscape, it’s easy to see why this was the right decision.


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On purely financial terms it makes sense. BBC 3 has a budget of £85million and therefore it means that Mr Hall has delivered the lion’s share of his savings in one hit.

But, on an artistic front it’s not all doom and gloom, despite the high profile Save BBC 3 Twitter campaign being conducted by leading comedians including Jack Whitehall, Russell Kane and Matt Lucas.

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BBC 3 was designed to attract and serve young audiences. It was the BBC’s “yoof” channel and it has done its job well.

During the last decade it has been a breeding ground for such ground-breaking comedies as Little Britain and Gavin and Stacey as well as the vampire drama series Being Human.

Unfortunately, the channel has also courted controversy with such provocatively titled shows as My Man Boobs and Me and Snog, Marry, Avoid. Although not designed for older audiences, it hardly endeared the channel to the decision-makers.

It’s obsession with C-list celebrities and cheap reality programmes left it open to criticism from those who have a deep, abiding hatred of the BBC as an institution and want all television to be supported by advertising. They argue, with some justification, that these programmes are designed to be nothing more than cynical ratings winners and therefore have no place in a public service broadcaster’s output.

The public service remit argument will have been one of the major factors which saved BBC 4 – along with the fact that its budget at £49m is half that of BBC 3, and its ratings are higher.

But ratings, as the BBC will tell you on certain occasions, are not everything. And before anyone wrings their hands too much at the fate of BBC 3, the good news is that it’s not really going away. It’s method of transmission is changing and it will now be online only.

One of the reasons BBC 3’s ratings are so low is that it is designed to be viewed by teenagers and recent studies have showed that teens and those in their twenties now watch the bulk of their TV online.

They are holed up in bedrooms, cafés or on the night-bus watching BBC3, or E4 on their tablets, iPhones or laptops. The BBC already recognise this which is why they premiere new comedy on iPlayer before it is broadcast on conventional television.

In 2012 eight new series played on iPlayer before they surfaced on BBC 3. Hit shows such as Peter Kay’s Car Share and Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education have their best audience figures online. Bad Education was the fourth most watched programme on iPlayer in 2013.

Moving BBC 3 to iPlayer makes sense because that’s where the audience already is.

BBC 3 should hold its head up high. It’s not a failure. It has a larger proportion of the 16-30 audience than Channel 4, its nearest rival, but it remains a marginal channel with expensive running costs.

The BBC will not turn its back on BBC 3 because it fulfils its charter obligations towards young people and it also nurtures young talent. This will no doubt continue. Young people live online and it is only right that their TV channel also lives online.

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