It’s now been six months since the BBC took BBC Three off our television screens and officially launched it as an “online-only” service with a considerably smaller content budget. As most of you will be aware, I was the driving force behind the #SaveBBC3 campaign for two years prior to this, hoping the BBC would rethink closing an important service young adults.
That is all very much in the past now, and what we all have to focus on is what BBC Three has since become, and how it continues to grow. After all, as disappointing as it was to lose BBC Three as a television channel, the last thing we need is to lose budgets and content for young adults altogether.
The reasoning for me campaigning to #SaveBBC3 wasn’t a flat out denial that online services can be a success, I mean after all we know that Netflix is huge, and services like Amazon Prime are growing. It was a lot more of a complicated argument than that, particularly concerning how you reach young adults with considerably less budget.
Since the closure of BBC Three as a television channel my television usage has changed. As someone who is somewhat a BBC fanboy it pains me to say that, but I have ended up flirting with subscription television, signing up to Netflix, and consuming more shows on other terrestrial channels like Channel 4. I don’t seem to be alone, young adults watching BBC TV has now fallen by 20pc according to the latest statistics (although the BBC refutes this). That was always the risk for the BBC, that rather than sending everyone online, it would benefit the commercial market. The cynic in you might think this was the plan when the Tories cut the BBC’s budget. From Channel 4 investing more in young adults, and other networks picking up the canned shows (ITV2 with Family Guy, Sky 1 with Don’t Tell The Bride) there is certainly a trend the move has benefited other networks. Channel 4’s offering of shows like First Dates, Naked Attraction, and Friday Night Dinner are all shows we talk about in the real world (whether we enjoyed them or not), that trend on social media, which get people talking. Like a huge percentage of viewers, we’re watching it live, or watching it at least on +1 when it airs. It’s no surprise to read these channels have benefited.
Since BBC Three moved online they’ve lost the ability to do that, and I think it’s a huge shame because there are some very worthy shows online, but it’s not yet worked out how to create a bigger buzz about the long form content it has to offer. When it first went online it hit the ground running with huge amounts of on-air publicity and marketing. Well known programmes like Cuckoo drove people to the on-demand content and website, as well as boxsets of BBC Three classics like Gavin and Stacey. The drama Thirteen benefited from this publicity drive, and people were talking about it. The online stats backed this up, but as you would expect the marketing has decreased, and now the station relies on more organic means.
When I spoke to a journalist about BBC Three last week I explained I think the success of the station is less reliant on the brand, and more about the individual shows. Murder In Successville was popular with BBC Three on television, people are following it up with the new series on-demand. Similarly, People Just Do Nothing has gone online this week, after some successful airings on BBC TV. But without the social media buzz, other shows perform less so well. The Top Gear spin-off, for instance, felt like it bombed.
As I said earlier, there are some great shows on there. ‘Feminist’ sitcom Fleabag being just one of them, and it is having some traction online, especially as it had been a theatrical show before becoming a television production. But how does the BBC get more young adults watching? Since BBC Three moved online iPlayer consumption has not increased. This is a dilemma for the BBC given that the purpose of moving it off television and on to the internet was about saving money, and because they believed this is where young adults want to consume content. Generating more publicity will come at a price.
I think online-only BBC Three benefits from being on platforms like YouView where browsing programmes, and getting prompted to try other shows, provides a good user experience. It keeps us intrigued in a world where we’re used to using different devices, flicking between different services and websites. Watching shows on Sky’s on-demand feature seems clunky, and right now seems a downfall for the BBC, although I believe modern boxes are about to get a much needed upgrade in this area.
I am genuinely keen for the BBC to make BBC Three a success online-only. As much as I jested about the brand when it was first unveiled, it has grown on me. Their social media team provide the interactivity the service needs, and some of the short-form content is interesting and can be impactful.
I started the #SaveBBC3 campaign because I care about the relevance the BBC has with young adults like myself and probably you and your friends. No one can say the first six months has been a failure or indeed a success, but hopefully with less media pressure the next six months will allow BBC Three to become its own.
Over the coming six months the market is going to continue to change, and it will be interesting to see what position the BBC is in by then. The most notable will be Vice going from online-only to launching a television channel on Sky and Now TV – will it take their content to a new audience, or will it flop and support the BBC’s case that online is the way forward?
We’ll wait and see, but the boost for other stations from the linear closure of BBC Three suggests the internet has yet to kill the television star.
This blog was updated on Monday 22 August to include a report containing new figures on young adults’ viewing habits.