The SaveBBC3 campaign has made a written submission to the BBC Trust’s consultation over BBC Three, claiming that the BBC’s proposals are a “face saving” exercise, slamming the Trust’s latest decision which ignored public opinion, and criticising the organisation for not doing more to stop the dismantling of the channel.
The campaigners claim that the BBC Trust’s June provisional decision to agree with the BBC’s plans to halve the content budget and move the channel off television went against the Trust’s own ICM telephone and the BBC’s GfK polling, the own original consultation of 23,000 responses, the BBC audience councils in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the 300,000 names on the #SaveBBC3 petition. They believe the BBC Director General and BBC Trust chair ignoring public contradicts the claims that they wanted the public to have a greater say in the BBC decisions ahead of the Charter Renewal.
There is also concern that the package of changes the BBC is proposing will become a “face saving” exercise rather than a “cost saving” exercise because the BBC has not revealed what it will do with spare capacity earmarked for BBC1+1 and existing space for BBC Three and BBC Three HD, and because it is tripling advertising spend to an non-disclosed amount on advertising and branding the new online service, and creating online partnerships. The campaigners blame the rushed transition period of just 2.5 months as the reason the BBC is having to do this, and is calling on the BBC to disclose the full amount it will have to spend in advertising and to reveal what it plans to do with the spare space. The #SaveBBC3 campaign criticises the BBC and BBC Trust for not explaining the proposals better to the BBC Three audience, and for not promoting the consultation enough since it launched. It says almost 12,000 responses were sent through the SaveBBC3.com website because the original did not speak to the target audience who will be impacted by the plans.
In the 12-page document to be sent to the BBC Trust ahead of the consultation closing on 30 September it will also criticise BBC directors for their contradictory claims. It refers to James Purnell, BBC Director of Strategy, who told the DCMS Select Committee this month that the corporation was trying to launch BBC1+1 because a large number of young audiences did not have access to online content, and that television channels would be around for a long period of time. He added they would not be replaced by on-demand. At the same meeting it was revealed the number of senior managers being paid over £160,000 had also increased by 66 to 74 in the past year, while the BBC had outlined a number of new initiatives in the past year since announcing the closure of BBC Three which contradicted the need to save money. These included services for North Korea and Russia, reporters for local newspapers, extended CBBC hours, an ideas service, the BBC Music awards, free technology for schools, a rival to Spotify, and a new iPlayer for children. The campaigners believe this should not be a priority when BBC Three is to be closed on television. They point out the BBC’s key reason in its application for closing BBC Three was not a change in audience behaviours or a desire to save money but to respend all £30m that was saved on BBC1 drama. The campaigners argue BBC1 is a channel already significantly funded by licence fee payers. The document refers to the government’s green paper, which recommended the BBC provides distinctive programming rather than chasing ratings – which it argues BBC Three does better than BBC One. The BBC application reveals the service will be less cost-effective jumping from 8.1p per hour in 2014/15 to 23p per hour if it moves online. There are worries this will lead to the axing of youth content altogether.
The campaign says the BBC Trust has not done enough to stop the dismantling of BBC Three with new programming appearing on BBC One and Two in a failed experiment. It points to an average of 50% smaller ratings for new Hair and Family Guy on BBC Two compared to Three, and a smaller 16-34 year old audience for Don’t Tell The Bride on BBC One. It points out the criticism that the BBC got for changing the format of the show when it moved, the changing timeslots for shows like Family Guy on BBC Two (up to two hours later than the first new episode at 10pm), and expresses concerns the future of content will be less distinctive without BBC Three. It refers to the number of repeated shows that have been accelerated in recent months – including the same Family Guy up to three or four times a week on BBC Three. New Orphan Black at the end of the month will also only air around 2.30am in the morning, in a bid to shrink ratings on television and to increase online viewing. It criticises the axing of shows like In The Flesh and Free Speech, and the Reading and Leeds move to BBC Four where young audiences were less likely to find it. With ITV2 and E4 posting moderate growth it believes the BBC has failed to justify why BBC Three should therefore close. It says the cuts to content and the BBC’s desire to shrink audience contradicts the BBC’s mission statement to increase reach to young audiences when the BBC has revealed there will be a smaller audience online.
The campaign reaffirms its position that the best result would be for the BBC Trust and BBC to go back to the drawing board and keep BBC Three on television. It says the BBC should look at alternative ways to save money.
However it recognises the consultation is based around the conditions the BBC Trust have proposed, and has called for tougher requirements. This includes forcing the BBC to provide further evidence that BBC Three cannot succeed on television compared to online, to force the BBC to demonstrate the successes of an online service if it launches – before the channel closes on television, for the BBC to reveal what it proposes to do with the vacant EPG slots and television space, and for the BBC to reveal the true costs of the online service including the total spends that will be made on marketing, advertising and partnerships with other online providers. It also wants to see the BBC explain why all £30m in savings should be respent on the BBC1 audience rather than a service that best reaches young audiences.
It is calling on the BBC to provide firm plans for how much programming will appear on BBC1 and BBC2 – including clear quotas. It wants to see the BBC explain how it will continue to deliver programming accessible for young deaf and blind audiences that access audio description and sign zone services on BBC Three. It also wants to see the BBC reassess the market impact of the Trust not giving the go-ahead to BBC1+1 and closing BBC Three on television, as there are fears such a move will diminish the offering on platforms like Freeview.
The campaign agrees with the Trust that proposals for BBC1+1 cannot go ahead when it contradicts what the BBC is planning to do to BBC Three, and believes extended hours for CBBC cannot go ahead when it contradicts the Trust’s polling and when there is no additional budget available to produce content for those extra hours.
It is concerned the BBC is opening itself up to legal action from Hat Trick and Avalon, who felt ignored in the previous consultation, and from media organisations like Virgin Media who have expressed a desire to act as a third-party online partner for BBC Three but were not mentioned in the BBC’s original proposals.
The #SaveBBC3 petition can be signed at www.change.org/savebbc3. The remaining 29,000 petition signatures and comments will be handed to the BBC Trust as part of this consultation process.