As TV Productions companies debate over the purchase of BBC3, Rachel Munford considers whether BBC3 is worth funding at all.
BBC 3 was once the central channel for my drama-watching needs. You could flick it on and see anything from vampires to a couples comedy but over the last few years, the amount of original drama on the station has been placed on the backburner in favour of dumbed down reality shows (Don’t Tell the Bride and Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents are particular highlights).
While the BBC3’s suggested move to online doesn’t necessarily come as a shock, it is a reminder that BBC, as a whole, is failing to use any tools it has to maintain viewing figures by cutting the wrong things to save money. Whether or not BBC 3 makes it as an online service, the quality of an already declining service could be left to deteriorate further. The purpose of moving it online is to save money, but is cutting budgets of its content creating channels wise at a time when senior executives’ bonuses are under more and more scrutiny than ever before?
Many of its most acclaimed TV shows have been cut, or sidelined, in favour of shows which attract only a certain niche of our generation. BBC 3’s target audience used to be a wide variety of young people and its original drama rivalled Channel 4’s sister channel E4; edgy original content created through the talent pool scheme, the BBC Writersroom was easily up to the standards of E4’s best drama. Now, few original programmes which have made it past their first few seasons without the aid of pushy fans and their petitions. The lifeblood of BBC 3 now seems to be reality shows and re-runs of Family Guy.
BBC 3 used to be a platform for new talent showcasing new writers and comedians; giving them a well-earned stage to showcase their talent to the masses. Without BBC 3, cult favorities such as Being Human and In the Flesh would never have been born. The channel provided grittier and less mainstream dramas while also highlighting excellent comedians and comedic writers. For young scriptwriters, there was the opportunity to shine no matter what genre they are interested, it was possible to make it on a semi-mainstream channel. Of course, BBC 3 has failed to compete over the last few years with Channel 4 which premiered very gritty, almost stomach-churning, shows like Black Mirror. Despite the worldwide successes of Orphan Black and Torchwood, the BBC still think BBC 3 is not a channel worth saving.
I could agree with them if I was only watching programmes such as The Call Centre and Don’t tell the Bride. While these programmes have their place on TV, it is disheartening to think that In The Flesh fought to make a second season (and now is trying to be picked up by an online streaming service) but The Call Centre made it to its second season without so much as a quibble from the BBC. Although documentaries and reality shows are cheaper to make, I mistakenly thought that the production of shows by the BBC was more about quality than how much it costs.
Yet BBC 3 hasn’t completely lost its purpose with production of shows such as Uncle, which was critically acclaimed, and Bluestone 42. Its comedy does remain strong even if its drama lacks originality. There is still hope for BBC 3 yet.
BBC 3 had a budget of £85 million in 2013/2014 while BBC 4 had a budget of £49 million, yet BBC 4 lives and BBC 3, effectively, dies as a TV channel. Just to clarify the budget of BBC One is around £1,000 million.
The move to axe BBC 3, despite its move to online, has outraged not only viewers, but comedians who have found their success on the channel such as Jack Whitehall and his original comedy, Bad Education. BBC 3 has been the birthplace of original drama, such as Being Human, and comedies/comedic shows such as Little Britain, Gavin and Stacey, Russell Howard’s Good News and Live at the Apollo.
BBC 3 should remain a channel. It should because of what it represents to the younger audience. It represents new talent and fresh ideas. If the BBC continues to focus only on its older audience it risks losing young license payers for good and could even affect the whole BBC for generations to come.