BBC Three’s future: I’ll be fuming for the ten minutes per day I don’t have an internet connection.

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AN EMAIL recently fell into my inbox from the website Change.org, the self-entitled “world’s platform for change.” For the most part it starts and aggregates petitions on issues and tries to get them noticed by the people who make the decisions; it’s the website behind the recently newsworthy “Ban Tom Cleverley from the World Cup squad” which has so far gained 18,700 digital signatures, and the reactionary “Remove the Ban Tom Cleverley from the World Cup squad” petition which has a solitary 67 digital signatures at the time of writing. Now, I’ve decided not to wade in on the England team debate outside of a safe public house environment where the lager which temporarily qualifies me to manage the England team is served. The issue which has stayed with me since it’s rise to the top ten trending topics on Twitter is that of the future of BBC Three, and the email I found in my inbox on the 9th March 2014 from Change.org was focused on this subject entirely.

The message was written by Jolyon Rubinstein, one half of “The Revolution Will Be Televised” duo which premiered on BBC Three last year and in turn received a BAFTA for Best Comedy Programme. I admit I haven’t seen the show, but having heard good things about it and learning of it’s commercial success, I was certainly drawn to the message: ‘Sign the petition and save cutting edge new comedy.’

It’s easy to get swept away by the message that without BBC Three, we wouldn’t have Little Britain, Russell Howard, Jack Whitehall, Russell Kane, The Mighty Boosh or Gavin & Stacey, but for one; this isn’t true and secondly, the BBC isn’t getting rid of BBC Three.

Both Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh began BBC life as radio series and Russell Howard was already well known for his work on both the comedy circuit and on the BBC Two show, Mock the Week. Russell Kane had won the top award possible at Edinburgh Comedy Festival, arguably the most important comedy festival on the scene, before appearing widely on the channel, and Jack Whitehall who was nominated for best newcomer the year before that – arguably only came to claim his second “King of Comedy” award in 2013 at the British Comedy Awards thanks to his role in Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, not to mention that almost every comedian mentioned here, including those on Gavin & Stacey, Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh, has appeared countless times on TV outside of BBC Three boundaries.

I do accept that BBC Three has been an almost intangible asset to these comedians, giving them a platform to the masses who don’t follow things like the Fringe or Radio 4. It may be correct to assume that without BBC Three, Gavin & Stacey would have not been commissioned, nor would “The Revolution Will Be Televised” or my new favourite, Nick Helm’s “Uncle”. But this is just the thing, whatever the BBC is thinking, there has been ZERO mention of a BBC without BBC Three. It is not going away, they are not shutting it down, they are simply proposing to move it online.

The petition “To the BBC Trust – #saveBBC3”, if you wish to sign, can be found here.

It was started by an unassuming guy name Jono Read from Norwich who seems passionate and attached to the issue. He puts forward many of the points I have outlined above and focuses rightly so on the fact that “the organisation needs to be investing more in content for teenagers and young adults” noting comedy and live music (citing the amazing dedicated coverage of Reading and Leeds, T In The Park, and Radio 1’s Big Weekend amongst others) as places where BBC Three excels in relation to it’s counterparts and must therefore not lose out. I agree completely, I’d even add to both comedy and music with documentaries, for which BBC Three has championed many new, hard hitting and edgy series such as “Tough Young Teachers”, “People Like Us” and “The Call Centre”.  However, the phrase “relegating the channel to the internet” used by Jono Read is one I take issue with.

Family Guy, an American Import is actually the highest rating show on BBC Three, not a British sitcom.

Family Guy, an American Import is actually the highest rating show on BBC Three, not a British sitcom.

“Relegating the channel to the internet” simply doesn’t make sense to me. For a channel that has made it’s name targeting young people and living on the cutting edge; to state that moving a channel to the internet in an age where Netflix commands subscription rates of almost two thirds of the UK population globally, Channel 4’s On Demand service attracts almost five million views per month and the BBC’s own iPlayer handled 261 million requests in the last year – it is a ‘relegation’ that baffles me.

The BBC’s own monthly performance review from October even states that the first BBC Three comedies to be premiered online before on the channel received the most traffic and now it has even ordered more iPlayer only comedies from comedy giants the likes of Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle, Bob Mortimer and Micky Flanagan. Clearly, the audience is there.

BBC Three has been a bastion for risk takers and for being the first there. It began as BBC Choice, the world’s first exclusively digital channel in a time when freeview had only just launched. Why can BBC Three not be the first exclusively online channel? If it were done correctly, and if funding were simply not taken away, but put in the right places to premiere and fund brand new content in the same way it has in the past, it has a chance to lead the way for television in the future. Smart TV’s, Next Gen Games consoles, Roku, Chromecast, Now TV, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, even Sky boxes all come ready installed to connect to the internet with TV streaming capabilities built in. If you want to argue that TV and the Internet are two completely separate entities, then you can do so in the past, because as of now and most definitely in the very near future, that simply isn’t true.

HBO, the network responsible for Game of Thrones recently attempted to premiere the shows finale online and it brought the network to a halt, leading many to claim that streaming TV isn’t cut out for prime time yet. However, ‘yet’ is the optimal word here. The UK enjoys for the most part, better internet than the US and the BBC depends on no lucrative TV advertisements detrimental to investment in online. BBC Three has a young audience, one who understand what all those confusing technical words up there mean, it has both the unique opportunity and capacity to make the best of this bad situation, in a way that BBC Four, 6 Music and every other BBC entity has not. Analysts are already saying that iPlayer is becoming more like Netflix and why not? If BBC Three released an entire series of Being Human at once, I might have actually finished watching it, instead of letting it fizzle to the bottom of my to do list.

The issue at hand is that the BBC is looking to save money – at least £100m of savings in fact according to Director General Tony Hall. Hall said in October that he wouldn’t consider closing down a channel, which he isn’t, but even if he did, the current budget for BBC Three only reaches to 85% of the final £100m figure needed. How to save that money is therefore the question. Talk of charging a license fee for iPlayer usage is high on the agenda, and one I’d take over increasing it. It’s easier to track iPlayer usage online and it’s been a well known and student used loophole since it’s inception, but it needs to be closed so that things like BBC Three don’t have to suffer. It’s sad that BBC Three may have to leave traditional broadcasting, and I agree that it shouldn’t be cut completely, but we shouldn’t be shouting about how much of an atrocity this is, we should be one step ahead, just like BBC Three always is, and begin championing it to become the future of TV.

Chortle, a relative authority on British Comedy have recently published a like-minded article focusing on just these issues; the success of comedy before BBC Three and the surprising amount of BBC Three failures compared to their successes. Remember “Scallywagga? Rush Hour? Tittybangbang?” says Jake Laverde writing for Chortle, “No? Thought not.”