BBC3 “Highly Valued” – BBC Trust Report May Affect Closure Plans


Following a fierce backlash against the planned closure of youth-oriented channel BBC3, a recently published BBC Trust report has examined the impact that Director General Tony Hall’s proposal could have on the BBC’s ability to engage and inspire young and ethnic minority viewers.

According to research conducted by the Trust, BBC3 is seen as the channel which best reflects and represents British diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion and sexuality. “In comparison to BBC1 and BBC2, the representation of diversity on BBC3 was not perceived as contrived or tokenistic, but rather occurring more naturally across programming,” the report stated.

in-the-fleshBBC3 is also the only channel with a decreasing average viewer age, which dropped to just 33 in 2013-14. Approximately 26% of British 16-34-year-olds watch BBC3 every week, a figure which includes about 1 million viewers who do not watch any other BBC television channel.

These findings are vital when taking into account the criticisms that have lately been levelled at the organisation for its poor representation of BAME (Black And Minority Ethnic) groups, including from popular figures such as comedian Lenny Henry. BBC3’s declining average viewer age also stands in sharp contrast to trends observed across the BBC’s other principal channels, all of which have seen their average audience ages (universally in the late 50s and early 60s) rise over the last few years. While the Trust’s report stops short of offering any actual judgement on the decision, it seems there’s little doubt as to its implied conclusion: at a time when the licence-fee funded organisation is already struggling to retain viewers within these sections of society, the decision to close the channel that most represents them seems at best ill-advised. As BBC trustee David Liddiment, who led the review, diplomatically put it:

“The BBC is special and affection for its many excellent programmes shone through in our audience research and consultation, but viewers also highlighted the areas where they felt the BBC could do better. The privilege of the licence fee gives the BBC uniquely the opportunity and the obligation to be daring and to take risks with programming that sets it apart.”

Though careful to emphasise that the BBC3 debate was not the subject of this particular report, with a further report and public consultation scheduled to directly address the issue, Liddiment admitted that, “In terms of all audiences, there are clearly challenges around young people. There is an issue here which needs to be addressed.”

Being-Human-Series-2Arguments in favour of shifting the channel’s output onto an online-only platform include the fact that many young people today consume most of their media via the internet, rather than on television, but if such a move is to succeed, the BBC must improve and expand its online presence in more creative ways:

“While it has offered some online initiatives, viewers do not associate BBC3 strongly with digital innovation,” said the Trust. “BBC3 has yet to establish itself as an online destination, with the trust’s research showing that awareness of any digital innovation or experimentation by BBC3 online, beyond iPlayer, was low.”

Although about a quarter of 16-24-year-olds use BBC iPlayer every week, just 7% of the total viewing figures for BBC3 are via the online service. Nevertheless, the Trust is reluctant to come to any definite conclusion about the move until it has received further details from BBC management on how the channel could work online.

“We have not yet received the proposals,” said Liddiment.  “We expect them in early autumn when we will put them to a public value test and assess their impact, particularly on young audiences, and will make a judgement on what we think is in the best interests of licence fee payers.”

A BBC spokesperson added, “Subject to approval from the BBC Trust, we hope our exciting plans for BBC3 will set a new bar in engagement with young and diverse audiences.”

But despite this, The Guardian is already questioning whether the report, in combination with widespread negative public reaction, may lead to the scrapping of the proposal, mirroring what happened four years ago with the planned closure of Radio 6 Music, which was saved by “a vociferous listener campaign”. To date, a petition to protect the TV channel has acquired over 236,000 signatures, and 65 UK MPs have now signed Early Day Motion 1160, which calls on the BBC to reverse its decision. A concerted online campaign at has also provided a platform for both celebrities and members of the public to pledge their support in a variety of ways. Check out Roman Armstrong’s musical tribute to the channel below:

Sources: Radio Times | The Guardian | Save BBC3

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