BBC digital re-invention continues as BBC Three moves online

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 26, 2015
BBC Three is moving online as the Corporation looks to digital shifts to cut costs as it comes under budget pressure.

The BBC’s digital re-invention has taken another step forward with the approval yesterday to shut down its BBC Three TV channel and move it online in March next year.

BBC Director-General Tony Hall announced back in March 2014 that BBC Three should be reinvented "as a channel online and on the iPlayer”, with the move saving over £50 million for the Corporation, £30 million of which will be invested into BBC One drama.

The decision had been expected after the BBC Trust provisionally signed off on the idea in the summer, but final approval was not granted until yesterday with the governing body determining that the ‘youth’ audience for BBC3’s output is increasingly viewing digitally on tablets and phones.

Suzanna Taverne, Chair of the Trust's Services Committee BBC Trustee says:

The decision to close a TV channel is a difficult one, and one we have not taken lightly. 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; to address concerns about the impact of moving BBC Three online, we have set new requirements for programmes for younger audiences on BBC One and Two."

There will be a phased migration online from January 2016 until the end of February 2016.

There are some conditions attached to the decision:

  • All BBC Three long-form content will be transmitted on slots on BBC One and BBC Two on an on-going basis as soon as BBC Three closes on TV
  • BBC Three long-form content will be made available on both BBC One and BBC Two at a variety of times across the schedule and throughout the UK
  • A commitment to providing risk-taking space being incorporated in the service licences of BBC One and BBC Two
  • A commitment to programmes targeted at younger audiences will be incorporated in the service licences of BBC One and BBC Two
  • The online channel should have the same accessibility standards as linear television wherever practicable

The move online is part of wider digital initiatives by the BBC and should be seen as moving forward, rather than cutting back, according to BBC Three’s Digital Controller Damian Kavanagh:

BBC Three is not closing, we are reinventing online.

The world has changed beyond recognition since BBC Three launched, he explains:

When BBC Three launched in February 2003 YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Sky+, Tinder, Chip and pin, Periscope, One Direction and Oculus didn’t exist. Nobody had Wi-Fi, broadband, flat screen TVs or tablets. The Nokia 1100 was the world’s bestselling phone.

Today, over 50% of video viewed by 16-24 year olds is not live TV and over 90% of 16-24s own a smartphone and have at least one social media account. In 2003 it was 0%. To offer young people what they want we had to adapt.

To that end, he adds:

We will not be a scheduled 7pm to 4am linear broadcast TV channel but we will be everywhere else giving you the freedom to choose what to watch when you want. We will be available on BBC iPlayer on connected TV’s and via set top boxes and consoles like the PS4 so you can watch on a big TV with friends, if you want. We will be on mobiles and tablets so you can watch on your own in the bath, if you want. The truth is we will be available to you in more places than ever before including linear TV.

But adopting a new digital model means that greater experimentation can take place in terms of content creation, says Kavanagh:

We will now spend 20% on new form content. 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. We will no longer be limited to traditional TV.

We can now offer opportunities to a wider range of talent because we have space to experiment with a wider range of content ideas in different formats and lengths.

My take

As we noted before, it’s a bold move by the BBC, even if it’s cost the Corporation hits such as Family Guy and American Dad.

I’ve alway had mixed feelings about the channel to be honest. For every Gavin and Stacey or Being Human, there’s a Sun, Sea and Suspicious Parents, which is hardly likely to improve the cultural heritage of the nation. 

In a world of Netflix, online programming is an inevitability that the BBC cannot afford to ignore.

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