The Axing of BBC Three: A Student’s Perspective

‘Increasingly, it’s thought that the youth audience are switching to accessing content online. They’re watching in their bedrooms and watching on tablet devices.’ – Director-General Tony Hall, BBC

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had to have the Television on to be able to fall asleep.

For most of my young adult life, I’ve had the same standard routine for a typical, early night’s bed-time; check what time ‘Family Guy’ starts on BBC Three, watch another channel until it begins (to avoid the episode of ‘Eastenders’ that usually precedes it), then, assuming the show is a repeat, half-listen to the dulcet tones of Peter Griffin whilst drifting in and out of consciousness, possibly catching a bit of ‘American Dad’, then usually waking up to a bizarre documentary in the wee hours of the morning when I’m eventually tired enough to fall asleep without the channel’s comforting assistance.

Alas, such comforts will be coming to an unexpected end, as yesterday (06. 03. 2014) the BBC officially announced that the channel will cease to exist in its current form, from Autumn 2015. Whilst most of the channel’s favourite programmes will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer, it is a landmark moment for the way in which we watch ‘television’, and the way we think of ‘television’ in the age of online media.

As a typical 22-year-old student, I fit nicely into the target audience for the ‘youth-oriented’ channel, and if I force myself consider the changes from a purely practical point of view, on many levels it makes sense that the channel should work as a solely online platform; having a fairly hectic lifestyle, I definitely watch more ‘television’ online than I do on a physical Television set. In fact, the shows that I have been most ‘in to’ are often those I’ve stumbled upon under the ‘Comedy’ section on iPlayer. I find it an added bonus when a show has a build-up of episodes that I haven’t seen, so I can sit for hours on end and watch until my heart’s content – none of this ‘wait a week for the next episode’ rubbish.

When we consider the concept of streaming providers like Netflix, and the popularity of their exclusive shows, it perhaps isn’t surprising that the BBC have made this move. However, there’s something about the fact that it is the ‘BBC’ that has moved a channel online that is particularly noteworthy – as the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation, it seems to mark the start of an era where once prime-time shows will no longer be featured on television at all. Also, whilst many shows on Netflix have proved a success, this does not mean that watching shows online is necessarily a more pleasurable viewing experience. There’s something far more satisfying about watching a TV show on an actual ‘TV’ – kind of like the difference between reading a book in ‘book’ form as opposed to on an eBook – the eBook might be well-designed, compact and convenient, but nothing can replace the feeling of cosy-ing up with a good page-turner when you can physically turn the page (I doubt the phrase ‘it’s a real button-presser/screen-swiper!’ will catch-on soon…).

Still, it could be argued that if people want to continue to watch their favourite shows, watching it online isn’t such a hardship, particularly as nowadays it’s so easy to obtain some kind of adaptor to hook the laptop up to the the old telly-box. However, this assumes that people have at-home-access to computers, and new-fangled televisions capable of connecting a computer device. According to the government’s website, 17% of people in the UK do not have internet access in their household, whilst The Guardian has reported that seven million of us ‘have never used the internet’. People might argue that, on the whole, this group of people do not fall under the channel’s ‘target audience’, but is it fair that your choice of programme be dictated to you based on statistics regarding factors like your age? Whilst I have no doubt that the BBC’s research is accurate and thorough, it feels as though the justification for the move is ‘young people like BBC Three, and the internet, so let’s put it online!’; not unlike saying ‘old people like BBC Four, and the radio, so let’s put it on the wireless!’

Moreover, whilst people may be happy to go online to watch shows they’ve already seen, there are large concerns for new shows. BBC Three has been the platform for all sorts of innovative programmes, particularly comedies. Jack Whitehall, among others, is backing a campaign to save the channel. According to Twitter’s #saveBBC3, over 115,000 people (correct at time of publishing) have signed an online petition at change.org to keep the channel, since the announcement earlier this week.

In the BBC’s defence, it has stated legitimate reasons for axing the channel, such as a need to cut its budget by £100m, and a desire to invest more money into drama. Also, writing this article has reminded me that I need to catch up with ‘Pramface’, then once on iPlayer I might as well watch a bit of ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’… and if I happen to stumble upon ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ it might not be the worst thing in the world…

However, as I watch these shows, fuelled by my not-so-powerful wi-fi connection, and the little pink loading-ring persistently interrupts my viewing experience, swirling around the screen, mockingly, from Autumn 2015 I’ll have only one thought – ‘this wouldn’t happen if I could watch these shows on a Television’.

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