Online-Only BBC Three Plans To Reinvent The TV Schedule, But Could Lose Popular Shows

    The BBC is proposing to take the youth-focused channel BBC Three online-only next year, with a radical new approach to TV programming and commissioning. But it might not be good news for Don't Tell the Bride fans.

    We now know what BBC Three would look if it becomes the corporation's first online-only channel – and it could be bad news for fans of Don't Tell the Bride.

    Plans were revealed at an event at the BBC's Broadcasting House on Wednesday to relaunch Three as an online-only channel focused on two content strands – "Make Me Laugh" and "Make Me Think" – in the autumn of 2015.

    Content will be distributed via a new website, the BBC iPlayer and also via social media platforms including YouTube and Snapchat.

    That means a whole new raft of content formats and commissions but also an uncertain future for the channel's most famous shows, such as Snog, Marry, Avoid (which last aired in 2013) and Don't Tell the Bride.

    This is to do with the need for innovation, but also money: The Beeb says it will save £50 million in content costs from the switch to online, but £30 million of that money is being redistributed into BBC One dramas.

    Because it will no longer need to fill a nightly schedule, Three will make big savings in commissioning – but at the same time become a "24/7" online publisher.

    Plus the plan, subject to BBC Trust approval, will also see the creation of a BBC+1 catchup channel and two extra hours of programming on CBeebies.

    The BBC says that BBC One still has the biggest reach among young people that the the catchup channels will "mitigate short-term loss" of audience among 16-34 age bracket.

    Discussion show Free Speech, true-life drama Murdered by my Boyfriend and the comedy Uncle were among the shows that appeared in a showreel of original BBC Three programmes shown by Cohen on Wednesday.

    Don't Tell the Bride did not feature and during a Q&A session Cohen failed to deny that the programme would be axed.

    However, Cohen was keen to stress that Three will still be commissioning comedy and drama but said the channel needed to distribute them in a different way.

    I think linear TV is here to stay.. I remember reading in media magazines around the turn of the century about the death of scheduling, but that hasn't happened...

    But every day I'm struck by the digital pace of change and what it means for the BBC.

    Cohen said this plan was preferable to "salami-slicing" the budget over time:

    As a former BBC Three Controller this genuinely wasn't an easy decision but if ever there's proof that necessity is the mother of invention, I believe it's today's proposal. I didn't want to makes savings by simply salami-slicing again across the board in BBC Television – for me that wasn't an option.

    Damian Kavanagh, the man leading the BBC Three transformation gave a hint of the kind of content the channel would make:

    We're going to continue to spend 80% of our money on long-form video, we're going to continue to do shows like Cuckoo, Bad Education, the next Gavin and Staceys and Little Britains, Our War...

    We're going to spend the remaining 20% of the budget on new, digital forms of content. Most TV channels are porbably spending less than 1% on this. Some will be editorially linked to longer forms of content and some will be genuinely standalone.

    Figures from Ofcom this week show that the number of households with a TV dropped by 600,000 during 2013, meaning that nearly one million British households are without one.

    The BBC has admitted that BBC Three's shift to online is coming sooner that it hoped or expected, but it now feels the time may be right, as Kavanagh put it:

    When we announced our plans to move BBC Three online, we admitted we were doing it earlier than hoped but it's become clear that for young audiences, their shift from linear to TV to online is already happening.

    It now represents 28% of the average daily viewing for 16-24s, with forecasts from Enders Analysis suggesting this will be as high as 40 percent by 2020.

    The BBC is relaxed about its audience consuming BBC Three content on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

    The channel will publish more short-form video on these platforms – but Cohen described this as more of a way to entice people into watching a longer version on its website and iPlayer.

    The team behind the project are keen to encourage the audience to interact with content creators, offer their view and "like and unlike" different videos. One of the key ways of doing this is through news.

    "We also really want to make sure that we provide news to this audience on a daily basis," said Kavanagh. "We want to serve that original journalism that tackles important issues."

    Kavanagh also explained how the channel will guide people through a stream of content throughout the day, using the website, like a "digital continuity announcer".

    BBC Three set up in 2003 as the corporations flagship youth-focused channel, but the BBC has faced criticism for airing programmes including Fuck Off I'm Ginger and so on.

    Patrick Smith / BuzzFeed

    Nothing has been decided on Three's future however, all this is just the BBC's proposal: The BBC Trust will make its decision next year after a full public consultation.

    Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Patrick Smith at

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