Some young viewers are still unaware that BBC Three can be viewed online.
BBC Three, which switched from traditional, linear broadcast to a web-first format last year, is the UK’s first public service online TV channel. The groundbreaking leap by the BBC was made in response to both budgetary pressure and the changing ways in which people watch TV, with younger audiences increasingly streaming content online.
Despite moving into an arena where younger audiences are, though, new research by Ofcom shows that some are still unaware that BBC Three is still available.
The study, designed to look at the BBC’s “distinctiveness” found that “some younger participants were more critical and argued that BBC Three no longer being broadcast on TV suggested that producing more creative and innovative content for young people was not a priority for the BBC. Some were even unaware that BBC Three could still be accessed online.”
Others said they used to watch BBC Three when it was broadcast on TV – “they liked the new comedies that were on this channel and thought it was a good way to try find more innovative material” – but hadn’t used it as much since its move online, saying they hadn’t seen much innovative new comedy from the BBC for a while.
“It was a massive fail was getting rid of BBC Three … loads of things like Gavin and Stacey started off on BBC Three but they’re not prepared to give it a long enough run,” said one younger group in Belfast, aged 18 to 29.
The research highlights the challenges facing BBC Three, as it has to compete in a crowded online landscape against rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Indeed, many younger viewers say they get their TV through such streaming platforms, with “big-budget American TV shows like Game of Thrones and Narcos” or “more niche shows related to their interests” preferred to BBC content.
Some younger viewers did not mind paying for subscription services, but did not feel they should pay for the BBC when they did not use it much.
The perception of the BBC, as a national institution, a broadcaster and a paid service, is tied up in this shift from traditional TV viewing habits to online streaming. Last year, the TV Licence laws were updated so that those using BBC iPlayer have to pay a Licence Fee. Views on the fee vary, according to Ofcom, with participants’ satisfaction with the BBC influencing their views on paying the licence fee and their expectations of the BBC. Those who felt that the BBC was doing well and giving them content that they enjoyed (most older participants) saw the licence fee as reasonable. Those who did not feel the BBC provided them as much content that they wanted (younger and some middle aged participants) were more likely to raise the licence fee as an issue which negatively influenced their views of the BBC overall. Some of these also mistakenly assumed that the BBC was a government owned institution and this meant that they had high expectations of the BBC and were unhappy if it did not give them the kind of content that they wanted.
Older viewers have a nostalgic affection for the BBC as a key role in their lives, but some younger and middle-aged audiences prefer providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for drama and Sky for sports. Some older audiences also said they think that the BBC offered them as much as it used to.
With Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Channel 4 therefore seen as more cutting-edge and innovative, the once-vague concept of “distinctiveness” is crucial to the BBC standing out in an online age.
“I think when you are scrolling through the TV, live and on demand (iPlayer) you are always scrolling through to find something that catches your eye. I feel that they have lost their way there is nothing that really grabs my eye to say “watch me”. We pay for the BBC I think there should be more content on there,” said one young group of 18 to 29-year-olds in Inverness.
However, BBC Online services, such as BBC News, Weather and Sport, are still valued by people who use them, with older groups saying that BBC iPlayer is considered “easy to use”. Younger generations, though, said that BBC iPlayer needed to adapt to compete with other services, both in terms of access to older archives and back catalogues and in terms of recommendations. Indeed, the BBC is currently introducing a requirement for users to sign in to the site, which will allow iPlayer to recommend titles that are more relevant to them.