Nothing to laugh about as BBC Three fails

If it wasn’t for the BBC’s own reporting of the story, I’d be surprised if anyone outside of the media world would have noticed if BBC Three suddenly went missing from their TV screens.

Dino Myers-Lamptey

Let’s face it, it’s been a long time since Little Britain gave the channel a voice as a place for alternative and edgy British comedy. Sadly, the channel has failed to live up to these high standards and the valuable ‘real estate’ (EPG position) it held on the TV.

Looking at the schedule now shows that its ‘content heroes’ are the likes of Family Guy and Meet the Fockers (repeats) – a long way away from its original positioning. The truth is, the ‘edgy British comedy’ on its schedules is just a little too edgy for TV, as the low viewing numbers have repeatedly shown.

The kids these days are all viewing this kind of content on other devices – to them it’s all about mobile, tablets, Xbox viewing and whatever other fancy devices they can get their hands on. Their attention spans are too short for 30-minute TV shows, they are all digital natives, so this channel should be one too. This is certainly the spin that someone with a less informed view of the ‘real’ numbers would claim, or perhaps someone in the BBC Three’s programming team.

Sadly for them however, as the viewing numbers for 16-34s on E4, ITV2 and ComedyCentral would suggest, comedy on TV for this age group is still a big deal. In fact, it’s still the biggest deal of all, with 67.7 per cent of 16-34s tuning into their TV sets on an average night and spending an average of 2hrs 50mins watching, and laughing. ITV’s huge profit announcements and the current ‘intense’ interest behind the sale of Channel 5 should act as proof that it’s not just about dancing cats or epic fails online.

While content is king, context is everything.

BBC Three’s £89m investment in content was comparable to what UKTV spent across all of its 10 channels, and while it was half of Channel 5’s budget, it made the mistake of spending too much on ‘experimental comedy’.

The fact is whether good or bad, comedy content is something that grows as people give it time to ‘get the humour’ and spread the word. All successful comedies have a different unpredictable pattern to ‘content bankers’, such as drama and reality shows (which for many are ‘real comedy’). The problem with BBC Three is that its content wasn’t good enough for the context of being a premium placed channel on the EPG. It didn’t live up to its neighbours so its democratic ‘vote by viewing’ has rightfully made a decision to give up its place for a commercial channel, and the maths for a commercial channel will stack up.

Channels such as ITV2 get around £152m in advertising revenues a year, and channels even further down such as Dave and Comedy Central generate about £52m each. A model such as ITV2’s will enable more investment in quality content, which will pay for itself through willing advertisers and leave investors with a profit. Even more radical would be if the likes of YouTube decided to enter the fold and pull together a schedule based on the hits of the web from that day.

If that was the case, the advertising industry would only dream that they gave us the privilege of interrupting their content with our adverts.The industry holds its breath.

Dino Myers-Lamptey is head of strategy at the7stars

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