I’ve been thinking of writing something on this but Jack Seale writing for RadioTimes dot com is very eloquent so I will quote this long read several times. Please read the whole thing (link).
1. On the “yeah but everything’s changing” argument
Be in no doubt that this is a closure, not a re-imagining. BBC3 is moving to iPlayer, but with £50m of its content budget, ie more than half, cut. Online-only might be the future, but it’s still the fairly distant future, even for a broadcaster that was miles ahead of the pack when it launched iPlayer itself. Director of TV Danny Cohen admitted on Tuesday that it wouldn’t naturally have happened for another three or four years.
2. On what the BBC is actually throwing away
BBC3 is hugely successful. It’s cheaper per viewer hour than BBC4, scores higher on audience appreciation than BBC1, reaches nearly a quarter of the population, is the biggest channel for 16- to 34-year-olds after 10pm, and has more Baftas than its budget gives it any right to. It plays a crucial role acting as a proving ground for new BBC comedy. There’s a steady stream of superb documentaries: last month, Reggie Yates’s Extreme South Africa. Next week, Life and Death Row. The week after that, Kris: Dying to Live. Nobody else makes anything similar.
3. Why this is even considered as an option by the BBC
What’s been missed surprisingly often in the debate about whether Tony Hall is right to pull the plug on BBC3 is that the decision only arises because the BBC had a whacking 16% of its real-terms budget taken from it by the government in the 2010 licence fee settlement.
If you’re angry about BBC3 going, that rage shouldn’t be directed primarily at Hall, but at the previous regime that agreed to the deal, and at a government fundamentally opposed to the sort of collectively funded public service that is the BBC in its current, mindblowingly successful and culturally invaluable form; an institution that, as the perfectly true cliche goes, is the envy of the rest of the world. (There was a dark irony in Hall announcing the end of BBC3 in the same week that £1.2bn in NHS contracts were put out to tender. But the NHS has a robust band of protesters, and even a bespoke new political party, fighting to save it. One day soon the BBC might need something similar.)
4. What the likely-one-term Tory-led government is considering next
Charter renewal – that’s the thing where the very existence of the BBC, not just the size of the licence fee, is on the table – was supposed to take place in 2016, but the government is working to move it forward to before the general election in 2015. If you’d like to make a written or oral deposition about it to the relevant parliamentary Select Committee, whose report begins the process in earnest, bad luck. All that’s already happened.
Some say the proposed closure of BBC3 is Hall’s way of confronting those who ask endlessly for the Corporation to slim down, by finally saying: look, little trims here and there won’t save the amount of money you want us to find. We’re going to have to shut a whole TV channel. Happy now?
If that is Hall’s gamble, it’s a dangerous one.
5. What can be done
So what’s to be done? The obvious first step is to join the campaign for BBC3 to be saved. It worked for 6 Music and the Asian Network. Will the BBC Trust overturn another major closure? It seems unlikely, since the proposition there was to completely close those stations on the grounds that nobody wanted them, a claim that was comprehensively disproven. The fudge of moving some of BBC3 online makes the case harder to prove, and the sheer amount of money involved would make a reversal a much bigger and bolder decision.
That is no reason not to try.