By Sahil Patel
BBC is planning to turn its youth-skewing BBC3 linear channel into an online-only service in 2015 in an effort to save costs and reach younger audiences where they are increasingly watching content.
The primary reason for this change, which would still require the approval of the BBC Trust, is to save costs. In an extended statement, BBC director-general Tony Hall and director of BBC Television Danny Cohen describe a situation in which BBC has “less money than it used to” but has been tasked with new initiatives, including a World Service that would cost as much as 350 million pounds per year.
It necessitates some cost-saving measures. With the shuttering of BBC3 has a linear channel — the first time the BBC has ever made such a move — the broadcaster would save over 50 million pounds per year. Some of those savings, 30 million to be exact, would be re-routed to dramas produced for BBC1.
That said, the decision to shut down BBC3 and turn it into an online-only service, which would live inside BBC’s iPlayer online video service, makes a lot of sense on an audience-consumption level.
“I believe the iPlayer is a key part of the future for public service broadcasting,” says Hall in the statement. “It’s the gateway for people who increasingly want to watch and listen to what they want, when they want it — on tablets, on mobiles as well as other screens. I am sure that this is going to be increasingly important for our younger audiences. And reaching those audiences is vital for the BBC.”
According to Hall, the BBC3 audience is already moving to digital, with 25% of viewing by 16- to 24-year-olds is to catch-up with programming on other screens. BBC expects that number to rise to 40% in the next few years.
That said, since most of the audience still watches content on TV, BBC plans to air select BBC3 long-form programming on BBC1 or BBC2.
Hall and Cohen also stress that the web-only version of BBC3 won’t be just a TV channel that’s now streaming online. “It will be an opportunity to look at new forms, formats, different durations, and more individualised and interactive content,” says Hall.
“When we take BBC Three online we need to see it as a brand new service launch,” adds Cohen in the statement. “There is a wonderful creative opportunity here to develop new formats with new programme lengths — and to reach young audiences in an ever growing number of ways. Will we still want to make all of our current affairs documentaries at 60 minutes in the age of Vice and YouTube? Will we find that contemporary documentary and formats work much better at 40 or 45 minutes than 58? What will we learn about the length we want to make each episode of our dramas or comedies, perhaps learning from new market players like Netflix and Amazon? Although I’m sure that video — televisual — content will be at the core of the new BBC Three, we’ll need to challenge ourselves to think and create differently.”