As with the proposed, then U-turned, plan to close BBC Radio 6 Music in 2010, there are strong arguments for retaining BBC Three. It’s the BBC’s only youth-oriented TV channel, with a target audience of 16-34 year olds. It’s been a testing ground for new ideas and programmes, many of which have gone on to great success. Whether the likes of Little Britain and Gavin & Stacey are to your personal taste or not, BBC Three undeniably provides innovative and unique programming, and caters to a niche which is otherwise ignored by commercial and other BBC channels, thus contributing to the BBC’s public service remit.
On the other hand, those innovative programmes are far from forming the bulk of BBC Three’s schedule. Also, the BBC hasn’t done the channel any favours by its policy of moving programmes away from it to BBC Two as soon as they achieve significant ratings success.
Also, let’s not kid ourselves about the consistency of BBC Three’s output. For every embryonic Gavin & Stacey, there are dozens of repeats and imports, as well as prurient Channel 4 style rubbish like My Man Boobs And Me. Of course, you can’t expect a channel with an intentionally experimental attitude to have successes all the time: if it’s taking risks, then you should expect some of them to backfire. But you don’t need to run repeats of Eastenders and Family Guy to score some home-grown drama and comedy hits.
If you cut out all the rubbish, you might have half a channel’s worth of exciting and potentially good quality programmes on BBC Three. Which makes me wonder about the other proposal for a drastic cost-cutting measure: axing BBC Four instead. BBC Four has a similar ethos to BBC Three – trying out new stuff with a smaller audience – but with a more grown up flavour. It was the birthplace of The Thick of It, it’s the home of Charlie Brooker‘s various -wipe programmes, and has created various other well-received dramas and documentaries. Like BBC Three though, its schedule also relies heavily on imports (eg, Mad Men and Scandinavian noir) and repeats from other channels (eg, classic BBC sitcoms and wildlife documentaries).
So, here’s my suggestion: merge the two channels. Or, axe one and move its good stuff across to the other, displacing its chaff and filler. There’s no clear reason why there should be two different channels doing essentially the same thing, but aimed at slightly different age groups or demographics. It’s actually quite patronising to suppose that young people wouldn’t be interested in anything a bit more intellectually challenging, that the audience for Russell Kane‘s Live at the Electric wouldn’t enjoy The Thick of It too. By mixing the two, you’d get serendipity and audience cross-over: viewers who’d make an uninformed judgement and wouldn’t tune in specifically for a “political comedy” might leave the channel running after a programme that’s more in their comfort zone, and discover how brilliant The Thick of It is.
Also, you could call the channel BBC 3 1/2: a unique name and brand that’d stand out against all the ITV2s and Channel 4 + 1s. It could be a brand that quickly develops a reputation for consistently innovative and original programmes, like Channel 4 used to be before it became a flood of sewage. Try saying it. It sounds exciting already:
BBC 3 1/2.
I’d watch it… if I had a TV.