Last week we heard that BBC Director General Tony Hall was expected to axe either BBC3 or BBC4. And now we discover that it's BBC3 that's got the chop.
Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention last week Tony Hall hinted at big cuts: "We decided we'd reached the point where salami-slicing would affect quality and distinctiveness. Rather than seek to preserve a less good version of our past, we decided to focus on what we do best: from drama to taking iPlayer into the next generation. And we agreed we needed to find the money to do that."
So, basically, he's sacrificed BBC3 to save Sherlock. Why do I think this? Well, Tony Hall, as DG, is also the Chairman of BBC Worldwide and that's where the money is. BBC Worldwide is the commercial arm of the BBC. It sells BBC shows abroad. In the BBC Worldwide annual report last year Tony Hall said: "One of several questions I asked staff to consider was how we can make more of the BBC brand and content in the global marketplace. BBC Worldwide plays a critical role in delivering this ambition and I will be working with the business to progress this in the year ahead." So people...what TV shows sell to America? Simple ones with a heartthrob actor and lots of special effects? Anything that's a bit like Twilight? Oh, OK! Let's make some more of them!
Doctor Who and Sherlock are Britain's most successful TV exports, shown in more than 200 territories worldwide. Now, I'll admit, I'm not a fan of Sherlock or Dr Who. In my view they sacrifice too much on the altar of visual effects and trite dialogue. Plot is not a major component in either show. But I know many people who love them and I understand the appeal. They are bold and brash. They are TV events. And the BBC is to be congratulated for accepting that TV and film have changed since the world discovered teenage girls like being scared by vampires and boys all want to be Harry Potter. So, yes, there will always be a place for big-brand, big-buck drama...anything that looks a bit like Twilight.
But my issue is that these programmes are aimed squarely at one single audience: 16-34 year olds. But not everyone is 16-34 - and not everyone in that age group is a fan. That means the majority of people are looking for something very different. So don't spend all your cash on programmes for a minority audience. In fact, BBC, it's one of your own strategic objectives: 'The BBC should reflect the diversity of its audiences in both its programmes and its work force. All audiences should have access to relevant BBC services'.
In my opinion the BBC does youth TV very badly indeed and I'm not sad to see BBC3 go. It has survived this far in spite of itself. Both Channel 4 and ITV are far and away better at developing youth-orientated programmes. But the BBC persisted. In my view it was always embarrassing - and slightly delusional. A bit like kidding yourself that you'll eventually get a date with someone who doesn't fancy you. But let's not talk about BBC3's 'flagship' show: 'Snog, Marry, Avoid'. OK, there was Family Guy and American Dad, both great comedies, but let's face it, BBC2 used to do comedy exceptionally well, so they'll fit right in there. I'm sure there will be no outcry at all about the axing of BB3 and any decent programmes are sure to be moved to BBC2. In my view, it's a bit of a relief that the BBC has faced up to the fact that Channel 4 and ITV have cornered the youth market - and there's nothing the BBC can do about that. Throwing good money after bad was never the answer.
BBC4 is safe. For now. After all, it is the BBC's one decent channel. Most people I've spoken to hardly watch BBC1 these days. They never touch BBC3, occasionally watch BBC2 but spend the vast amount of their BBC-viewing time on BBC4.
Think about it, if they'd axed BBC4 we would have lost the space for a vast array of incredibly popular factual, arts and drama shows. BBC4 is many things to many people. It's Radio 4 on the telly. It's a bright, shiny jewel of a channel. It's informative, exciting, vibrant, edgy and fun. It's The Thick of It and Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe; The Strange Science of Decay and Pain, Pus and Poison; Wallander, The Bridge, Borgen and Salamander; The Kenny Everett Story, The Secret Life of Bob Monkhouse and Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! It's rock documentaries, dance and jazz concerts. Yes, it's not always mainstream and it gets accused of being high-brow, but isn't that the whole point? In this age of reality voyeurism where programmes let us watch children in A&E and people with mental health issues hording 10 tons of newspaper, don't you think we all deserve a bit of high-brow now and again? I know I do. So I'm incredibly chuffed that it's been saved. Well done BBC!