The BBC is looking to use BBC Three’s “reinvention” to an online-only service as a future blueprint for its overall strategic direction as it looks to reinforce its place in the digital landscape and cater for the changing needs of future audiences.
The broadcaster unveiled its preview of the proposition, which is still pending BBC Trust approval, to press this morning in London, with director general Tony Hall hailing it as a step which will see it “redefine” public service broadcasting and transform how the BBC caters for the radically changing viewing habits of younger generations.
The BBC is “not afraid to take a bold risk”, he said, adding: “The challenge is now to maintain the strength of our core channels and redefine public service broadcasting for the on-demand world of unlimited choice, loads of different devices accessing what we do, and the extraordinary global competition.”
“…I also want BBC Three to be a path finder for rest of the BBC – engaging with audiences on their terms, with their talent, on platforms and devices they use, and speaking to them as equals and partners. What we will learn through this process – and we will learn a lot – we will use to set a new strategic direction at the BBC and reinvent public service for the digital world,” added Hall.
Cutting BBC Three's linear TV channel will generate savings of £50m, all of which will be reinvested into BBC Three online and also BBC One content.
The new BBC Three will retain long-form programming, along the vein of previous TV shows such as Gavin & Stacey and Little Britan, which will take up 80 per cent of the £30m budget, while the remaining 20 per cent will be dedicated towards digital content This will include anything from micro videos to text-based articles, to animations, interactive experiences, quizzes, and ‘listicles’.
“That [20 per cent spend] is very important. Most TV channels today are probably spending one per cent or less on this,” said BBC Three proposal lead Damian Kavanagh at the unveiling.
The approach will be to shift away from “pushing content out to audiences” towards the kind of content that the 16-34 year old target market can engage and connect with on the platforms they are using, according to Kavanagh.
It will drop traditional genre-based commissioning for its online-only BBC Three proposition, refocusing all content on two pillars – ‘making people laugh’, and ‘making people think’.
“We want the audience to feel they own it, can help shape it, and are members of it...We also want to also create demand for new forms of content. We need to reskill the BBC with these kinds of new native digital content. We can then share this with the industry and transfer the benefits,” said Kavanagh.
Content will be distributed “everywhere” online, across social media networks and platforms including the main sites Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and Tumblr, as well as across its own channels, as it looks to reach the “widest range of 16-34 years olds possible”.
Kavanagh added: “The biggest mistake we could have is if we saw the reinvention of BBC Three as just moving it from TV to online. We want to create something genuinely new and reinvent public service broadcasting for digital generations.”
He stressed that BBC Three will “not be a push relationship” with its audience, but content that will engage in different ways. “In this world we must give our audience a voice”, he added.
It will do so in two main ways – firstly via the subject matter of its content, which will run 24/7 and comprise a daily news feed spanning topics including news, current affairs, and featuring documentaries, and secondly by inviting audiences to share and comment on content and give feedback to help shape future commissioning.
Its website will act as the hub, pulling in all long and short form content along with the daily stream of content.
Hall referenced the financial pressures the broadcaster has faced as a major reason for the channel moving online-only, adding that it will lose more than a quarter of its funding by 2016, due to a range of factors including the licence fee freeze, and other expenditure including broadband rollout.
“So we are on track to deliver £1.5bn cumulative annual savings by the end of this chartered period. The issue for me has been to concentrate spend on what matters most – content and services. So over 90 per cent of our spend goes on that.”
However, he said it cannot continue “salami slicing”, and pulling necessary spend which will affect content quality and ultimately the BBC’s reputation. “Something has to give. So by moving BBC Three online we can avoid reducing drama levels to what I think are unacceptable levels on BBC one,” said Hall.
Also speaking at the preview Danny Cohen, BBC director of TV, described the coming years of TV viewing as a “hybrid” landscape in which linear TV viewing will remain strong, but a bigger gap between the viewing habits of different generations will become more apparent.
“There is a gap emerging between viewing habits of young people and older audiences. 12-16 year olds are watching half as much live TV as adults. Habits are changing fast and we need to be part of it.
“Do we sit back as a legacy company and watch as generational change bites away at our impact, or do we take a place at the forefront of that change? We need to learn, fail, learn again and succeed,” said Cohen.
To do so it will need to take risks, and recruit the kinds of skills and expertise necessary if it is to “flourish” in the digital landscape, according to Cohen.
Marketing budgets to promote the new service are yet to be revealed, and the BBC could also not comment on what its projected audience figures would be, although Cohen conceded it expected to see an initial drop.
All previews it showed were not circulated as the BBC Three proposals are still pending approval from the BBC Trust.