Three can still be the Magic Number

As a youngster desperate to watch The Word and Eurotrash, I had to employ as many clever-clever techniques as I could to stop my parents from finding out. Pillows against the door, volume down to 0, subtitles on, standing up (rather than risk creaking on the bed or a chair). I think that, on the whole, I got away with it.

All that, though, was another world away from television today, and what young people access for entertainment, music, humour. Fixed schedules, weekly ‘event’ television, dedicated strands on specific channels – all these and more besides are as outdated to younger audiences as Swapshop was to me in the 1990s. It’s little wonder that the BBC, subjected to justifying every penny of a reduced licence fee, can’t be seen hanging around with its ‘youth’  output, or be seen to have too traditional an attitude towards the provision of programmes for a younger audience. It is no longer the case that Network 7 (and there’s a contemporary reference, kids) can be used to fob off opinionated teens once a week.

BBC Three, the oft-rebranded, re-focused, re-calibrated youth and young people channel on digital television, is to be moved away from the box and onto the Internet. For most of its audience, there will be no difference. Streaming television, be it through the BBC’s own iPlayer or something like Netflix, is second nature for the kids of today. ‘Must see’ dramas and comedies can be accessed through alternative means, and frankly, there’s more than one way to watch Family Guy of an evening. (And on that point, moving Family Guy and American Dad to a post-Newsnight slot on BBC Two could have countless positive consequences.)

The problem with BBC Three has been one consistent issue with confusion. Was it the launchpad for new talent, and if so, why did so many pilots and trials fail? Was is the dumping ground for shock-docs, and if not, how many times could the Beeb say it was constructive to show parents acting surprised at their drunk children having a good time on holiday? Using Being Human as a catch-all calling card for all that is good about Three is useless when Lee Nelson was given two (count them, two) series. The BBC should be doing more than presenting an all-year round YouTube clips show, too, which Good News… has been since the dawn of time.

Rather than mourning the loss about Three, let’s look at the possibilities. More digital space for broadcasting footage from festivals and minority sports, perhaps? If the Beeb wants to think a little differently, why not use the CBBC frequency for teen/youth programmes after close-down?

The future of the BBC is always and forever in doubt. Every penny has to be justified, perhaps more than ever. Five years ago, I suggested that axing BBC Three would be a good thing, and I still do.