BBC3 is officially closing and moving online. The BBC Trust has approved the plans, and has delivered its final guidance to the BBC. Here are some questions you might want answered…
1. So, BBC3 has been axed?
Nope, it will “move online” – they get really angry when you say it’s been closed.
Not axed -> going online. No axes here! pic.twitter.com/vP1TMgqPUp
— BBC Three (@bbcthree) November 26, 2015
2. What does that mean?
From next year, BBC3 will close as a broadcast channel and move online. Programmes will be shown via BBC iPlayer, along with more ‘short-form content’ like videos, animations and other viral content.
3. When will this happen?
Effectively from February 2016. No new programming will be shown on the channel from the end of January, but there will be a “brief phased migration” when it will promote what’s on the new on demand service. BBC3 officially becomes an online-only channel on 1st March 2016.
4. Will it still be called BBC3?
Yes. Even though it might be a bit anachronistic to give a non-linear channel a number, there are no plans to change the name. Which means, no, BBC4 will not be reduced by one…
5. Why are they doing this?
Honestly? Money. The BBC say they can save £30 million a year to reinvest elsewhere. The channel’s budget will be halved to around £30 million.
But the BBC Trust also believes there is a valid argument for closing the channel to reflect the way young people watch television. Susanna Taverne, Chair of the BBC Trust’s Services Committee, said, “The BBC must adapt with its audiences; the evidence is very clear that younger audiences are watching more online and less linear TV. The plans enable the BBC to deliver more distinctive content online, while bearing down on costs.”
6. What’s going to happen to my favourite programmes?
But if you like the channel’s harder-hitting content – say, Professor Green’s Suicide and Me – then you might be in luck, although you’ll have to go searching for them. The channel is making an effort to produce programmes for young people that, in their words, ‘Make Me Think’.
Ditto for comedy: the new ‘Make Me Laugh’ strand will feature sitcoms and highlight upcoming talent. There will be a new series of mockumentary People Just Do Nothing and Murder In Successville and a new stand-up series, Live From The BBC.
Remember, though, that all this will be done on half the budget, for a ‘channel’ that will be open 24 hours a day. And the onus is on viewers to go online and find new favourites.
Ofcom research concluded that BBC3 has been a “flicking channel”, where viewers stumble across stuff by accident. That will have to change.
7. Will it be the same shows but online?
No. 80 percent of BBC3’s budget will go on standard ‘long-form’ shows – half-hour comedies, hour-long documentaries, that sort of thing. But around £6 million a year will be set aside to create new ‘short-form’ content: parodies, viral videos, show spin-offs, even things like listicles and photo stories.
“Split between our editorial pillars this will include short form video, picture led stories, animation, authored pieces, basically any way we can tell a story most effectively for our audience,” BBC3 controller Damian Kavanagh said. “We will no longer be limited to traditional TV.”
That said, Kavanagh also claimed in August that stripping out repeats and buy-ins will mean BBC3 would be able to produce more of what it does best with less money: “Although we have less money we will be spending pretty much the same, or even more, on the stuff young people told us they wanted – scripted comedy, drama and documentaries.
“Because we won’t have repeats, anywhere near as many acquisitions, comedy panel shows or formatted factual shows like Snog Marry Avoid, we will spend as much on new British drama, as much on new British comedy and even more on documentaries and factual content than we do now.”
8. Will there be any shows for young people on normal telly?
Yes. The BBC Trust has insisted that all BBC3 long-form programmes have a repeat on either BBC1 or BBC2. They should be run across the schedule at a variety of times.
BBC management asked for “flexibility” as to when it broadcasts these repeats, saying it “supported the use of slots on BBC1 and BBC2 with transmission (generally) after 10.30pm”.
However, the Trust made it clear that it was worried that would mean BBC3 shows would only be broadcast in unpopular or late night slots. It therefore insisted that shows need to run “at a variety of times across the schedule (including peak and ‘shoulder peak’ times)”.
BBC1 and BBC2 will also have to “offer some programmes with a distinctive approach that are designed for younger audiences” – but there are no specific demands or budget set aside for more youth-focussed programmes.
The Trust’s concerns are made clear in the report: “The closure of the broadcast channel [BBC3] and the reduction in programme budget will make it more difficult for the BBC to reach those aged 16-34.” By making BBC1 and 2 think about how it can serve that age group more, it hopes to fill the gap.
9. What will happen to the slot in the listings?
The BBC don’t know yet. It originally proposed having a BBC1 +1, but that plan was rejected. During the handover phase it will act as a promo tool for the online channel, but come 1st March?
The Trust has asked the BBC to come up with an idea for the channel slot within three months. The BBC could use the channel number to broadcast other BBC services, or it could sell the space.
According to the Trust report, “some stakeholders expressed a desire to acquire the vacated capacity,” and The Guardian reports that the slot could be worth as much as £4-5m.
However, BBC rivals will be limited as to how they can use the slot. The channel can only run from 9pm, and must be used for public service broadcasting.