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BBC Three is an easy target: Why its move online makes me angry

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BBC Three has always been an easy target. Right from its inception, the channel came in for criticism - whether it was people turning their noses up at Snog, Marry, Avoid or middle class, middle-aged mutters about where the licence fee was going.

So when the news broke today that BBC Three is being axed as a regular, broadcast channel - and moving solely online - I wasn't surprised. Sure, the station has produced high quality drama, comedy and entertainment. Sure, it picks up higher ratings than some of the other BBC brands. Sure, it's pretty much the only BBC channel aimed at young people. But, well, it's always been an easy target.

'In The Flesh' - Exclusive series 2 image.

© BBC


I have sympathy for the BBC. They've been stuck between a rock and a hard place in recent years, as the recession bit and funding was squeezed. With a coalition government that's never been too warm towards the corporation and a charter renewal - when the future of the licence fee will be decided - due in the next couple of years, all eyes are on the BBC budget. Cuts are being forced on the Beeb. It's just a shame that it's BBC Three that's bearing the brunt of it all.

The fact is, those officials and politicians and big bosses deciding the future of the BBC aren't BBC Three's target audience. As a rule, they're not the sort of people who want to tune in for In The Flesh or Being Human. They have no investment in the channel. They're not bothered about saying goodbye.

The Fades (BBC Supernatural Horror)

© BBC


Sometimes I wonder if people have forgotten the purpose of the BBC, the public service broadcaster, tasked with - funnily enough - providing a service to the public. All of the public. BBC Four picks up smaller ratings, with nicher broadcasting, but its future is secure. That's not a bad thing - I'm pleased that we have a channel providing programming to even the smallest interests in society, because that's exactly why we have the BBC. It's a broadcaster that isn't beholden to advertising, and so it can take risks and go for something different.

Yes, I'm glad that BBC Four is safe, but that doesn't mean it doesn't half leave a bitter taste. BBC Four is precisely the sort of channel considered worthy by those in power, with the sort of programming that in general these people would like to watch. Where does that leave BBC Three, which appears to serve a much larger slice of the population but is being unceremoniously dumped?

Because no, it's not just Snog, Marry, Avoid. BBC Three might cater for young people, but it's by no means dumbed down. Over the years, we've had quality, risky, award-winning drama - In The Flesh, The Fades, Being Human. There's been hugely popular, and sometimes hugely risky, comedy - Him & Her, Gavin & Stacey, Little Britain, Bad Education, Nighty Night, The Mighty Boosh. Already, comedians and actors are jumping to the channel's defence, pointing out how BBC Three is a wonderful nurturing ground for talent who later make it big - take Live at the Electric. Where are we going to cultivate the stars of tomorrow if not on a broadcaster like BBC Three?

Alison Steadman, Larry Lamb and Matthew Horne in 'Gavin & Stacey'

© BBC


And you know what? Yes, some of BBC Three is political. There are some genuinely moving, thoughtful documentaries - take the fantastic Our War as just one example. The channel has always been great at exploring topics that really matter to young people, from homosexuality to drug use to racism in football to disability to pretty much anything else you can imagine. Even BBC Three's latest competition, Hair, is affirming - just talented young people working hard at something.

And I'm proud of the channel for having shows like Young Voters' Question Time. Young people are politically engaged - if you engage them. I can't predict that sort of show making it elsewhere once BBC Three's gone.

I was angry enough when children's programming left the main BBC channels and was banished to CBBC, but to drop BBC Three entirely? A channel that deals with young people's issues, that is aimed at young people, that has young people as its main concern? We need these people to be served, and the fact that they're considered disposable is something that infuriates me.

Our War

© BBC


Yes, yes, the Beeb say that BBC Three will still survive, just as an online entity - while somehow still making £100m of savings. I'm not sure how they're expecting to cut that much and still have original content of the quality that BBC Three is producing. The fact is that they can't do it. BBC Three might still exist a bit. It won't exist in the same way. That's without even pointing out that a) not even all of the country has high-quality broadband yet, and b) only 2% of the population access viewing solely on iPlayer (that's what the BBC's director general Tony Hall said, anyway). So if the BBC Three iPlayer figures don't rate too highly, what then?

There's still time for a 6 Music-style turn around. Already, celebrities like Matt Lucas, Jack Whitehall, Richard Bacon, Russell Tovey, Jameela Jamil, Greg James, Russell Kane and Rick Edwards have hit out at the rumours of BBC Three's demise, and a petition's picked up over 3,000 signatures at the time of writing - it's not been up for long, and already famous faces are backing it. The point is, there's something really valuable, important and worthwhile to save here.

Do we want to lose the kind of quality programming for young people that's not being done elsewhere? I certainly don't. That is the essence of what the BBC is for, and if we lose it, I think it'll be something we regret.

Is axing BBC Three the right decision?
Yes13.05%
No86.95%

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