There was a lot of consternation doing the rounds this week when it emerged the BBC have plans to switch BBC Three from a TV channel to online only distribution. I can’t say that it’s a hugely surprising move, particularly as they have made a big push recently with putting the episodes of comedies up on the iPlayer before they appear on TV. The big pink Premiere logo appears on the show, and you can watch it online long before it reaches the schedules.
I can understand the fuss, BBC Three has been the launchpad for some really brilliant shows – Being Human, Gavin & Stacey, more I probably can’t remember right now. Lots of comedians are concerned that they’re losing a vehicle to get their work heard.
And yet, something about that angle doesn’t quite ring true. The BBC have their obligations, and if comedy is on there, they’ll do it in a different way – putting the programmes on BBC Two or really promoting the online angle. There’s also a huge argument to make that the Corporation aren’t the be-all and end-all of content anymore. For a long while, they really were. They had the scope to create things that weren’t necessarily going to be an instant hit, they don’t have to pander to advertisers and their budgets, while tight, are guaranteed.
Now, as with many business models, the TV world is being democratised. If the BBC aren’t interested, someone else likely will be. The recent cancellations of Ripper Street and The Hour brought many an outcry from their devoted fans. There were fervent hopes: “Maybe Netflix or Amazon can pick them up?” I’m not sure anyone actually thought it would happen, and yet it did.
A third series of Ripper Street is going to be produced by Amazon, for their online service to be later shown on the BBC. Where previously it had been some abstract dream that the cancellation of your show wasn’t necessarily the end, now it’s a reality. With Kickstartered movies and Patreoned products, you don’t need to have a huge voice to get something to stay on air. You just have to be “big enough” and that measure varies hugely depending on what the product is.
At the worst, any comedy creator is going to have to make the thing themselves and get it up online for people to see. It can be hard to gain traction, sure, but it can be done. I used to think that the BBC were stifling the content markets. Whilst their output is staggering and much of it is brilliant, they weren’t helping competition in the UK broadcasting space. More and more, I’m starting to see that it’s a position they held only briefly, and as always in this kind of a market, things are changing.