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BBC Three: A messy process

COMMENT | "We're facing difficult times, and we need to look at our TV services and see where we can save some money. It's been a tough decision, but we've decided to close BBC Three, and move your favourite shows to BBC One and BBC Two.

"As a result, instead of spreading our programmes thinly across channels, and subjecting you to lots of repeats, we hope that viewers will find a more diverse range of new and exciting programmes on BBC One and BBC Two, including all of your BBC Three favourites, such as Backchat, Don't Tell the Bride and Family Guy. After all, we know from our research that some of you think the BBC has gone a bit stale.

"We know that more and more viewers are choosing to watch TV online, either live or via catch-up, and we know that the BBC Three brand is well known among our younger viewers. So, despite closing the BBC Three TV channel we'd like to create a space online for BBC Three to live on, a place where you'll find BBC Three TV programmes that are broadcast on BBC One and Two all in one place, you'll also find short videos and features and link ups with social media that you can access on your PC, tablet or mobile. Don't worry: If you don't have broadband, we want to ensure that  BBC Three TV programmes are shown on BBC One and BBC Two at a reasonable time of day.

"And we still want to commission content for young adults, so from an operational point of view, we're retaining a small budget for BBC Three for its online service and for its programmes that will now go out on BBC One and BBC Two. Therefore, we're still interested in receiving suggestions from programme makers and we still want to commission great content. But we'd also like to invent new styles of programmes, such as short videos, and we want to work with programme makers for these new forms of content as well."

If only.

Had the BBC in 2014 made its plans known in such a manner, would there have been the great uproar that the actual announcement and proposals caused?

Instead, licence fee payers were subjected to a series of vague statements and experiments preempting today's BBC Trust decision. This was particularly true surrounding the fate of popular animated series Family Guy and American Dad, which formed the basis of the initial protests surrounding the plans. The BBC couldn't or wouldn't say what would happen to these shows. In the end, new episodes materialised on BBC Two, but not before ITV spectacularly announced it was taking over showing new episodes starting at the end of 2015. By the time BBC Two took over showing Family Guy and American Dad, it was already firmly ingrained in viewers' minds that ITV2 was were you'd find new episodes later in the year, and BBC Two's screenings bombed in the ratings.

If the BBC had said at the outset that Family Guy would move to BBC Two, would as many people have signed the Save BBC Three petition? And given the high publicity that the announcement had, would more people have known to look to BBC Two for new episodes?

Neither did the BBC at the time outline what would happen to other long-standing BBC Three shows. In the end BBC Two began snapping up programmes, securing the long-term future of shows such as Russell Howard's Good News that will now sit in BBC Two's schedule alongside programmes commissioned for BBC Three Online, as dictated today by the BBC Trust.

Women's Football has found a new home on BBC Two and BBC Red Button, although there are now concerns that BBC Red Button may go online only in the near future.

Viewers were subjected to experiments by BBC Management, such as scheduling new episodes Orphan Black at 2am in the morning and shunting live events off to the BBC Red Button and showing repeats of old programmes on BBC Three instead, creating further unease and distrust against the formal consultation process being held by the BBC Trust.

Despite strict conditions being placed on the BBC by the Trust, requiring that all long-form (or regular length/format) BBC Three programmes commissioned for BBC Three Online must be shown on either BBC One and BBC Two at various timeslots (not just late nights) and across the whole of the UK (no opting out of BBC Three programmes for Scottish viewers, for example), the whole drawn out process has left a sour taste in the mouths of many viewers.

This can be seen by the social media reaction to the Trust's announcement and the claims that the whole process was a 'sham' and comments from viewers sent to a516digital via the website and Twitter. In fact BBC Management earlier this year preempted the BBC Trust by claiming in public that the move online was a done deal.

But if the BBC had been open and honest, treating viewers with respect and provided reasonable mitigation at the outset, then we'd probably be at the same place today, but without half the fuss and without the feeling of an out-of-touch management ploughing ahead before the final verdict and before the BBC Trust telling them in no uncertain terms that they would have to guarantee BBC Three slots on BBC One and Two, with the threat of quotas if they fell short on reaching the types of audiences that BBC Three had.

There is a nagging feeling that BBC Three viewers have been treated a bit like lab rats, a strange species that don't earn six-figure salaries, that aren't white, grey haired and a bit wrinkly, that don't all have fast broadband, that don't like watching the Antiques Roadshow, a species that can be toyed around with and experimented with. Unsurprisingly, the lab rats have cottoned on to that, and they don't like it.


  1. So, I wonder. Will the bump BBC Four down to being BBC Three or are they going to just leave the naming as a mess and have it go 1, 2, 4.

    1. No sign of BBC Four being renamed, and as there will still be a "BBC Three" online area, there's absolutely no chance BBC Four will become Three!

    2. Only problem I see with that is it breaks a basic system that would drive people's OCD mad and there would be many complaints who have loads of time to complain about the fact that it goes 1, 2, 4 and no 3.

  2. Quite agree BBC is too thinly spread, but I think they want to cull a few managers aswell to save money. Another thing how many reporters they sent to Paris after the terrorist attrocities totally overboard.


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