BBC Three, relaunched 

13 February 2008

BBC Three gets going at 7pm

Last night was an important occasion for BBC Three, as it unveiled both a new(ish) schedule and a whole new look for the channel. The blob idents became history with a ‘pink world’ concept taking its place; presumably the intention being to create a grand linking theme between the TV channel and the new accompanying website.

However what probably looked good on paper turned out to be a disjointed mess when on-air; indeed I would go as far to say that overall it was the worst presentation I have ever seen on any BBC television channel – it was a hotch-potch of ideas inspired by media buzzwords with only vague premises that linked them all together.

Three different types of ident were used – one ident featured someone in the style of the old Channel 5 “celeb talking on a couch” set pieces and also featured something that looked like a “progress indicator” at the bottom of the screen which eventually transpired to be nothing of the sort (just one of several annoying inconsistencies).

Then there was the much-heralded “user-generated content” clip of a viewer introducing a programme which was shown just before The Real Hustle (“new”, as the on-screen graphic continued to remind us throughout the programme). The clip looked amateurish and pointless since it just served to sink to the same level as YouTube.

Nowadays broadcasters often desire to somehow ‘connect’ with the younger generation; these viewers spend a lot of time looking at YouTube, Bebo, MySpace, etc., but making your channel look like YouTube and feel like MySpace is somewhat missing the point; after all, these viewers will go to YouTube if they want YouTube-style video.

When viewers switch on a BBC channel, they expect to see content that’s relevant to them no matter how it’s presented, and young people go to the cinema expecting to watch films with Hollywood production values as opposed to watching YouTube clips. Therefore a BBC TV channel is expected to have BBC production values by default.

Thirdly there were more conventional-looking animated idents that were sometimes used as well, including a BBC Three logo ‘sting’ that sometimes appeared after a programme. Just to complicate things further, sometimes a programme would start immediately after a clip of (presumably live) in-vision continuity with no following ident.

On top of this there were minor but sloppy inconsistencies in the use of captions, which may be easily correctable and are almost irrelevant in the real world but they betray a lack of behind-the-scenes planning – it was almost as if half of the BBC Three production staff had been sacked and replaced by amateurs.

Enough of the disappointing presentation then, so what about the new schedule? Admittedly I didn’t sit down and watch each and every programme in-depth, but the new comic strip-inspired drama Phoo Action has potential but like so many BBC Three drama productions is ultimately let down by a lack of budget.

Earlier in the evening there was Find me the Face, which sounded (and looked) like something that Sky Three might put on, namely having two talent scouts on the lookout for future fashion models. BBC Three was obviously playing it safe at this point, but to attempt to call this new and exciting would be against the Trade Descriptions Act.

Then there’s Lily Allen and Friends, featuring pop starlet Lily (daughter of Keith) Allen in her own chat show in which allegedly over a third of the audience walked out before the end. It was naturally heavily edited to try and make it look respectable, but apart from two OK-ish interviews it has a long way to go before becoming truly accomplished.

Independent producer Princess Productions is a master at producing ‘cheap and cheerful’ chat shows so it superficially should have at least worked on one level, but as some have previously said, one pilot show doesn’t seem to have been enough to have given this particular concept legs.

Much like BBC Three’s new presentation, Lily Allen’s show was a melting pot of lots of existing ideas that ended up becoming a jack of all trades but ultimately a master of none of them. The slow clapping of some of the audience behind the front two rows said it all, unfortunately.

So what’s next for BBC Three? It’s no secret that the channel wishes to extend its broadcasting hours, and the long-term intention is to reposition the CBBC Channel to cater for younger children, so it seems obvious that BBC Three will at some point plan to start its daily broadcasting earlier at the expense of CBBC Channel airtime.

The fact that BBC Three has reintroduced the once-unfashionable concept of in-vision continuity (IVC) – namely someone appearing in person to tell viewers what’s coming up next – isn’t just a sign of trying something different, it also indicates the possible future direction for BBC Three; the fact that CBBC also uses IVC as well is a big clue here.

Since many children of 10+ years go to bed after 9pm even during the week, having them watch a BBC Three that starts earlier (at 6pm perhaps) is preferable to the BBC than having those same children watch a CBBC Channel that closes down at 7pm since those children could then switch over to a rival commercial channel at that point.

So having in-vision continuity could be a step towards making BBC Three becoming that “grown-up kids’ channel” which starts earlier and also stands a better chance at capturing/serving young adults during the time when The Simpsons/Home and Away/the local news that’s stereotypically “for older people”, etc., is on.

The verdict? BBC staff haven’t exactly had an easy year with continuous talk of staff and budget cuts generally lowering morale, but this has rarely been readily apparent on-screen until last night – that’s the only excuse I can currently think of for something that seems to lack true cohesion on several levels.

Given time, BBC Three’s new presentation may begin to make sense so all hope isn’t lost just yet. But it does illustrate the danger of getting focus groups to prejudge your concepts for you, and the end result may end up being the ultimate price to pay for swallowing too much marketing hype.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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