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27th March 2021

Box or binge: Is BBC Three’s move back onto television really necessary?

Anna Nixon examines whether BBC 3’s move back onto terrestrial television is really worth it
Box or binge: Is BBC Three’s move back onto television really necessary?
Photo: Pxfuel

Is the BBC’s decision to bring BBC3 back to television welcoming the next generation of television viewers, or just demonstrating their lack of awareness of the way young people consume media?

We’ve all been there, lying in bed with your laptop screen rested against your chest, spiralling further and further into the depths of a show until you find yourself at 3am mourning the loss of a character you hadn’t met until 5 hours ago. Binge watching is a term that only reached popular culture less than a decade ago, yet it is the most popular method through which most people of the millennial and Gen Z generations consume television. After all, why would you wait a week to watch the next episode of a show when you can watch the entire series as quickly and easily as if it were a film?

BBC 3 has arguably hosted many of the most bingeable shows available to television viewers recently. Fleabag, Killing Eve, and Normal People are some of the most popular – all of which have been nominated for, or won, at least one Emmy award. I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel’s BBC 3 mini-series released in June last year, has been the latest show to burst into popularity, bringing with it a surge of political discussions about rape and the treatment of women.

The channel has proven its ability to entice and retain younger viewers with its humour, politically relevant undertones, and gripping storylines. A week after the last episode of Fleabag aired on BBC 3 in 2019, it had 2.5 million viewers, many of whom were aged between 16 and 34. Fleabag demonstrated an increase in the viewing figures for this age group by 246% compared to those usually reported by the BBC on other programmes.

So there is no question that BBC 3 can create and show programmes appealing to a younger audience, but is its current formatting supporting this? Since February 2016, BBC 3 has only been available on BBC iPlayer, the online platform where consumers can watch any programme available, at any time, and often as a whole series in a box-set format. When the BBC’s decision to move BBC 3 online was announced to the public, outrage ensued, and a petition against the decision got 300,000 signatures. Certain groups claimed that the move symbolised the BBC’s disregard for its younger viewers, as BBC 3’s target audience is 16–34-year-olds.

On the 2nd of March 2021, the BBC announced that they will be bringing BBC 3 back as a channel on television in January 2022. It will not play programmes continuously, but will instead run between the hours of 19:00 and 04:00, on the channel which CBBC takes up for the rest of the day (the BBC’s channel for older children). This time schedule means that the majority of BBC 3 programmes will be shown after the watershed of 21:00, as a lot contain inappropriate language for children or scenes of a sexual nature.

Though this move is encouraged by some, seeing it as the BBC finally acknowledging their viewers of a younger age, others argue it is merely unneeded spending. The initial reason for moving BBC 3 online back in 2016 was that it would save the BBC money by only showing these programmes online, which most of its viewers watched online anyway. Though this increase in online consumption of television was strong in 2016, particularly with younger audiences, it has been increasing ever more rapidly since, and is now arguably more prevalent than ever. Added to this is the increase in the number of smart TVs found in people’s homes, where they can watch linear TV or switch over to watching iPlayer (where BBC 3 is currently hosted) without a second thought.

So, to pose my earlier question again, is the BBC’s move from just iPlayer to linear television as well really necessary? It may be a gesture of the BBC’s inclusivity of its younger audience, but in my opinion this gesture is merely representative of this channel’s lack of understanding about how young people consume the programmes they provide.

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