BBC Three’s broadcast resurrection offers a fresh chance for TV dramas aimed at younger people

The national broadcaster needs to recognise the needs of young people, writes Clara Hill.

Normal People

By Clara Hill

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BBC Three being resurrected as a Freeview channel is welcome news. It has a well-deserved place in the line-up. After being established in 2003, the channel faded away to online-only in 2016, in a cost-saving endeavour, a move that was decried at the time. The official BBC review to bring it back concluded there was a “strong case” to do so and, if it all goes to plan, it will be back on the airwaves by January 2022, pending Ofcom approval. Julian Knight MP said the move had “failed” the 18 to 35 demographic, leaving them without a dedicated television channel on the box.

Critics say young people just watch telly online anyway. We young people just binge-watch Netflix series, one by one, never understanding the thrill of watching a show week by week, discussing it layer by layer with everyone you know. A lost art, vanished along with the landline and home-ownership.

While this may be partly true, the news is something I am thrilled about. Under current UK law, all households must pay for their TV licence if they have a television or engage with BBC content online. This makes it a moral imperative to supply everyone with a channel designed with them in mind.

Defenders of the BBC say it is terrific value for money: all that fantastic content for roughly £13 pounds a month, the same price as a Netflix subscription. But if you are not able to get it like every other channel, with a specific slot on the guide, how is that fair?

Being back in the prestigious line-up of the public broadcaster’s channels could potentially herald in a new age of fantastic television dramas, ones that surpass the millennial and generation Z demographic. The online version of the channel certainly did – creating a garden of modern classics with blossoms like Killing Eve, Fleabag and Shrill, shows with qualities which transcend things like age and gender.

If you ask me, shows like these should not be hidden away on a sub-par platform. They are jewels in the BBC’s crown, some of the best the Beeb has to show for itself. The potential for more shows like this, to see more complex, humorous and downright moving shows come to light is something I hotly anticipate.

Again, detractors might say being online does not impair the quality, but that is missing the point. Legitimacy often comes from the platform, and there is no better medium than television. Books, films and the like have their merits – but TV is king. For me, there is nothing that tells a richer visual tale than TV does. Losing yourself in a fabulous series is one of my greatest loves. The online reincarnation of BBC Three had decreased funding, which means that if it does indeed become a fully-fledged channel again, it could benefit from bigger budgets and higher quality programme-making.

This is not to say that Netflix or any other streaming service is lesser, or that I don’t love their original offerings. But the national broadcaster needs to recognise the needs of young people, to give them their own designated channel. Bringing back BBC Three is a step towards that. If people do not feel seen by the BBC, what is the point of them protecting it?

The stuff that BBC Three is currently creating is important to people, putting the spotlight on some vital issues, extending both to their fiction and their non-fiction programming. Documentaries, such as Jesy Nelson’s Odd One Out which looks at the ramifications of online trolls, are one example. Another is Zara McDermott: Revenge Porn, which shone a light on one of the biggest issues facing young people across the UK, with powerful testimony from McDermott, twice a victim of the cruel practice, about how the shame she felt caused her to experience suicidal thoughts. This ought not to be parked away on the internet. It also deserves a wider audience.

And BBC Three also gave us Normal People, the much-discussed adaption of Sally Rooney’s Booker Prize-nominated book. It was a dose of much-needed intimacy in a time where we are so separate from it. This partnership with the American streaming service Hulu was a match made in heaven.

A personal favourite is Drag Race UK, a camp celebration of the drag scene in this country, brimming with silliness, dress up and fantasy. Perhaps most importantly, it’s one of the greatest lights of the dark times of lockdown, a weekly shot of glamour in these very unglamorous times. I’m really grateful for it as the source of memes to text my sister. And if I dare be so bold: for me, it’s better than the original from across the pond, proving that there is nothing that the entertainment wing of BBC cannot improve.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, contact Samaritans for free from any phone at any time of the day or night on 116 123.

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