BBC Three has released its first viewing figures since becoming an online channel – and Thirteen is leading the pack.
BBC Three switched from traditional to digital broadcast six weeks ago and, in that time, it has already unleashed a wide range of content, from docudrama Murdered by My Father and short-form comedy by vloggers to Eddie Izzard’s marathon of marathons.
Marnie Dickens’ flagship original drama Thirteen has proven the most popular, with Episode 1 of the programme receiving over 2.4 million requests on BBC iPlayer since its premiere. That impressive figure even overtakes the 1.2 million views accrued by the first episode of Cuckoo’s third season, which had a two-week head-start. In fact, it rivals the popularity of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, which was watched 2.4 million times on BBC iPlayer in January 2016.
“It shows our content cuts through with a young audience wherever it is,” said Damian Kavanagh, Online Controller of BBC Three, in a blog post this week.
It doesn’t, as The Guardian’s useful contextual figures note, take into account the 8.4 million people who saw Sherlock’s New Year’s Day special on BBC One. Thirteen has, however, been broadcast on BBC Two since its release online, as part of the BBC Trust’s requirement to air all long-form original content on traditional TV channels, which means that the show has also reached a wider audience. A fairer comparison is, perhaps, Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, which was the highest-rated show on the old BBC Three with 2.5 million viewers back in 2006, when iPlayer wasn’t available. By that measure, the new BBC Three is still reaching its target audience to at least some degree.
Cuckoo’s Season 3 debut is the second most popular title on BBC Three to date, with 1.2 million views – slightly more than the 1.15 million who tuned into Cuckoo’s first episode way back in 2012, which again could be argued as a sign that BBC Three is matching or outperforming its former self.
Life and Death Row: Execution and Sex In Strange Places: Turkey are the third and fourth most popular shows, with Murdered by My Father ranking in fifth – despite only being released within the last two weeks. The programme had 850,000 requests in under a week, before it aired on BBC One, which boosted those online views to over 1 million. The figures compare unfavourably to Murdered by My Boyfriend, which had 3 million requests on BBC iPlayer in 2014, but it will be interesting to see how the statistics stand side-by-side after Murdered by My Father has been available for longer. This is, after all, one big experiment.
BBC Three: Top Five
Thirteen: Episode 1
Cuckoo: Season 3, Episode 1
Sex In Strange Places: Turkey
Life And Death Row: Season 2, Episode 1
Murdered By My Father
Kavanagh has welcomed the figures as a sign that the trial is a success, mostly emphasising its engagement with audiences over the cold, hard numbers.
“If we just wanted big numbers we’d have Justin Bieber playing snap with The Chuckle Brothers or endless videos of cute cats,” he joked.
“Calls to the Maytree charity from young men increased significantly after Professor Green: Suicide and Me,” he notes. “Reggie and Stacey’s films have cut through. Murdered By My Father has already led to people contacting us to say it has changed their lives.”
The channel also did well in the latest BAFTA TV nominations, as well as the RTSs and BPGs, with wins and nods going to Reggie Yates for Extreme Russia. People Just Do Nothing, Murder In Successville, Don’t Take My Baby, Asian Provocateur and Suicide And Me.
Short-form content, which is being released primarily on Facebook and YouTube, has enjoyed varying degrees of popularity, although factors including the content and platform will play a part in these trends. Taylor and Greg’s citizenship test from Cuckoo is the most popular on BBC Three’s YouTube channel, with 788,220 views at the time of writing.
Kavanagh cited a blog post written by a young producer to go with The Dark Side Of Gaming (titled “I’ve been called a curry muncher”), which generated a discussion on Reddit, “a group who lets be frank don’t come to BBC Three that often and are exactly the underserved audiences we want to reach”.
“I’m overjoyed with what we’ve achieved so far. It’s a marathon not a sprint but so far we’ve exceeded expectations,” added Kavanagh. “We’re taking risks which can be scary for people who are familiar with traditional TV but my advice is simple. Great content is great content and it will find its audience whatever the means of distribution.”
The Guardian notes that the BBC has not said whether the channel’s views overall are reaching the 11.2 million people who tuned in weekly to the linear broadcasts, although the omission of this statistic suggests that it isn’t. Nonetheless, they provide a useful window into assessing the impact BBC Three is having in its new online-first format.
At the beginning of this week, a video previewing the channel’s new Drugs Map of Britain series has already reached 362,538 views. A longer, 25-minute version on YouTube has (at the time of writing) reached 25,962 views.
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