BBC Promises an Innovative, Yoof-Driven Future for iPlayer-Only BBC3

By Gerald Lynch on at

"What would it take to save BBC3?" That was the question on everyone's lips at this morning's new-look iPlayer unveiling. But for the BBC's Danny Cohen, director of BBC Television, the channel doesn't "need saving". Rather, the Beeb executive thinks the online-only future for BBC3 is as bright as it's ever been.

"I don't see it as needing to be saved," said Cohen. "BBC3 is going to carry on. We're just doing it in a different way -- we're closing a linear channel in a world where people everywhere are more comfortable with digital engagement."

Cohen makes an interesting point in that 25 per cent of all iPlayer requests now come from connected TV sets -- a figure that he himself was surprised to be as high as it is. The argument then is that BBC3 and its shows and content won't be put into some online backroom and left to rot, but rather that iPlayer is increasingly at the centre of the living room viewing experience anyway -- something that's only sure to increase as the Beeb adapts the platform to be intuitively designed regardless of device.

"I think it was a difficult moment and a sad moment in some ways, and I felt that as someone who has worked very closely on the channel," said Cohen. "But I also feel a great deal of creative excitement about the change, and seeing the new iPlayer launch this morning adds to that for me.

"As well as the sense of loss we feel -- I've said that we wouldn't be doing this so soon if it wasn't for the financial challenges we face, we probably would have done it in three or four years time -- I've also felt simultaneously that this is a huge moment for us to change the way we relate to audiences."

BBC3 as an iPlayer-only platform represents an interesting, experimental space for the BBC then. The channel has always traditionally courted younger viewers, but the format has also been that of longer-form content that the BBC has championed for years. While Cohen is keen to stress that BBC3 output will not be entirely chopped into bitesize chunks, the online arena allows for flexibility with show lengths. This serves two purposes -- giving rising stars a platform to create short burst (and cheaper as a result to produce) content with which to gauge audience interest, while also targeting a youth audience that increasingly watches TV in shorter chunks on mobile devices.

"We want to do all we can to move young people over to online viewing as well as TV viewing," said Cohen. "The kinds of lengths we can work at, the kinds of shows we can make is really creatively liberating. Alongside the correspondence I've had lamenting the loss of BBC3 as a linear channel next year, I've also had correspondence applauding the creative opportunities it affords, the ingenuity it will allow for, the range of ways we can reach people."

Though BBC Director General Tony Hall is clearly keen on moving BBC3 online-only as soon as possible, such a major change first needs approval from the BBC Trust. But there's a feeling in the air at the BBC that opposition to the proposal (despite a 200,000 signature-strong, celebrity led petition) will be light.

"The Trust will have final approval, so we have to be respectful of that. If we do get that approval though, we will be going ahead with the outlined changes," stresses Cohen. "Whether we get that  positive public response or not, we have financial challenges, and we can't avoid them."