So, Tony Hall has made his decision, and BBC Three is the one for the chop. An unavoidable choice we are told – The Beeb needs to save some significant dollar due to a tawdry licence fee settlement in 2010, where they were ambushed by an incoming Government with significant political capital. More “Salami slicing” won’t do, and a big change MUST BE MADE. For that reason, it was surprising no-one saw this one coming. BBC Three has had its fair share of criticism throughout the past decade, so the DG thought he might be able to kill two birds with one stone, please the increasingly rabid anti BBC right-wing press with a decent sacrificial lamb whilst recouping a few quid at the same time. Additionally, the 16-34 age bracket are the least likely to squeal (or are the easiest to ignore)…and hey, they’ve got the internet and that haven’t they? Stick Don’t Tell The Bride on iPlayer and they’ll be sorted!
This demonstrates an incredibly patronising attitude at the BBC – if they don’t cater for this audience then where on earth is the BBC’s next generation of watchers and listeners going to come from? Saying that everyone is going to just watch stuff online instead is as stupid as those who thought tape cassettes in cars would kill off radio. In addition, according to the Beeb themselves “It’s a brilliant channel and it’s on fire at the moment. It’s performing incredibly well and the most popular channel both for its audience and in peak time” (according to BBC Three controller Zai Bennett in 2011 in a BBC in-house interview http://www.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/news/bbc-three-controller-qa-zai-bennett.shtml), so why shut it down when BBC Three is finally starting to fulfil its potential?
I’ve got a couple of alternatives I feel are worth considering, that will save cash and keep the BBC offer coherent & appealing to all.
Close BBC Four
Don’t judge me on this one. I really like BBC Four, and it does have a niche of its own. But, I think we all need to appreciate that since they’ve had the budget for drama taken away, it’s a husk of a channel with the odd excellent documentary.
Moving away from BBC Four – think of the other BBC channels. BBC One – the mothership, the workhorse, the place where everyone goes in a crisis, some may say the slightly generic, anodyne home of light entertainment. BBC Three may have its naysayers (and I can’t say I’ve ever watched Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents), but most will admit it has been a great testing ground for new comedy and some accessible documentaries that avoid the patronising tone of Radio 1’s Newsbeat.
Now BBC Two. Well, it used to have lots of good comedies on it, but now it has some intermittently, and some documentaries, and err, the snooker. Surely it’s better to re-align Two and Three, combining all the excellent content from Four on to Two, bring back some groundbreaking drama too – making it all killer, no filler (thanks Sum 41). BBC Three can then purely focus on comedy (including those from BBC Two) and some accessible current affairs stuff – perhaps slightly widening the age remit from before, but still keeping the channel fresh and appealing to a younger demographic.
Close BBC Three, but partner with Channel 4 (or even ITV)
Both Channel 4 and ITV have “youth” channels (E4 and ITV2 respectively). Now, I’d suggested E4 would be a better fit due to Channel 4 being a state owned corporation and, to be honest, I’m not sure if any BBC programming should sit alongside The Only Way Is Essex. How would it work? Well, it could happen in a number of ways right from the BBC providing some programming for E4, clearly branded as paid for by the BBC with no advert break, or a full-on joint venture, maybe branded as just “Three”, with programmes provided from the both. There are some issues with commercials, but, as has been shown with the UKTV channels, these can be overcome with ownership via BBC Worldwide. It would also go some way to keep Channel 4 happy without “top-slicing” the licence fee.
I think either of these options would be preferable to what the BBC are proposing – keeping a lopsided selection of channels in a nasty mish-mash of a compromise whilst alienating future supporters of the BBC certainly hasn’t been the most convincing move from Tony Hall. Also, the numerically inconsistency of the remaining channels is really going to bug me.