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06 March 2014

BBC3 - Digital Zealots, Put Up Or Shut Up

The future is digital, and multiplatform. We know that.

Content, whether that be news or entertainment, is what matters. That content, comprising audio, video, images or text (in whatever combination) can be delivered to a bewildering multiplicity of devices by methods usually, but not always, involving the internet. Radio, TV and print are no longer discrete and exclusive media, but are simply three well established platforms within an ever-expanding range of options.

So far, so commonplace.

Then why the fuss if BBC3 comes off digital terrestrial broadcast TV? Why a campaign to 'save' content delivery to an unwieldy black box (or more likely, panel) in the corner? Illogical, Captain.

BBC3's target audience of connected youth should take to the multiplatform delivery via iPlayer content as to their mother's milk. It should pave the way for other BBC services to come off DTTV in a planned migration.

iPlayer/online delivery has fantastic potential to link to and synchronise with other online offerings such as visualised Radio 1, 1Xtra and 6 Music, or to webcam augmentation of flagship channel broadcast experiences; for example, when bands are clowning in studio, or gurning backstage at Eurovision. Then, of course, there's the whole gamut of social media just a click away.

The move of BBC3 should be seen as the pioneering step - the next Ally Pally moment. In the early 1950s the trendsetters of their age abandoned radio, migrating from Broadcasting House to Alexandra Palace against the advice of wise old heads (who had a point, arguably) to embrace the shining potential of the new.

There is of course an argument for universality of service. Young people from less prosperous backgrounds are less likely to have access to shiny tablets and fast broadband (although in my experience are adept at war-walking or password hacking to obtain that access). But that argument is the BBC at its jealous worst, the Beeb as the Borg, seeking to assimilate and dominate all media technologies for fear the commercial sector might make a success of them. And the BBC has never managed to pull off youth programming in a truly convincing way.

Auntie, even if she squeezes into an inappropriate dress, always has a whiff of Blue Peter Eau de Cologne. The streetwise talent is always slightly sanitised. Maybe with web-only she could risk the occasional, controversial and cred-building lapse? I said 'occasional', not habitual.

So the time has come to put up or shut up. Do the gurus who believe in the future, and enthuse about it endlessly at industry conferences, really believe in their product? If so, switch BBC3 off DTTV now and prove that internet-only delivery works. What are you frightened of?

The other possible interpretation, of course, is that it's all a publicity stunt to generate the kind of ratings bounce enjoyed by 6 Music after Mark Thompson suggested axing the hipsters' favourite audio toy in another, now forgotten, Telly Tax sparring match with the government.

But that would just be cynical.


  1. Good article - people love to talk about the virtues of the online-only delivery, and that it is the future.

    Eventually, maybe, but this furore has proven that at the moment, the UK is not ready for that to happen.

    For the record, I'm a young person, who has many gadgets and spends a lot of time online, however, I would like to see the TV channel stay on TV.

  2. One disadvantage of moving BBC3 to digital only is that educational establishments such as the large FE college library I work at will no longer be able to make and hold recordings. We currently hold 250+ BBC3 recordings, predominantly documentaries, across a wide range of subjects - whilst our recording licence now permits us to download and hold on-line content, the BBC's DRM restrictions do not allow us to stream their content on our network.