BBC3 will take another slice of commercial TV

‘Tough’ Government guidelines for BBC3 will do little to protect the interests of the commercial broadcasters and their advertisers, warns Andrew Canter

After many months of haggling with the Government, the BBC launches BBC3 next week. According to culture secretary Tessa Jowell, the new channel, which morphs from existing digital channel BBC Choice, will be “consistently innovative and risk-taking”.

In line with government guidelines, 80 per cent of BBC3’s programming must be specially commissioned for the channel, and 90 per cent of it made in the UK. It will be available across all digital TV platforms, and is aimed at the elusive 16to 34-year-olds market. BBC3 will be broadcast from 7pm to 4am every day.

As with all the BBC’s channels (TV or radio, analogue or digital), it will be funded with licence-fee money, but it will only be available to under half of all UK homes. The debate continues as to whether the BBC should be able to fund a channel through licence payers, when the majority of them will not benefit from it.

The BBC plans to spend millions of pounds on advertising and promotion (using BBC1’s airtime) to ensure that BBC3 is a success. Given the low BBC4 audience figures, BBC3 will need all the promotion it can get.

The lynchpin of BBC3’s launch strategy is that EastEnders episodes will for two weeks be premiered on the channel one day before they are shown on BBC1. Though this is likely to generate healthy viewing figures, it could create a backlash from the majority of the soap’s viewers. Other programmes lined up for BBC3 are Burn It (a drama about three men who act as though they are still boys), Body Hits (a look at what modern-day hedonism is doing to our bodies) and This Is Dom Joly (a studio-based chat show).

Not surprisingly, the commercial broadcasters are up in arms over the launch of BBC3. Audience figures for E4, Sky1, ITV2 and even Channel 4 are likely to drop, costing them millions of pounds in lost advertising revenue as a result. And if viewers do switch to the non-commercial BBC3, the cost of advertising will rise.

You only have to look at children’s TV to find proof of this. The commercial channels have suffered since the BBC launched its two channels – CBeebies and CBBC. Nickelodeon, Fox Kids and Cartoon Network have all lost audience share – bad news for advertisers. We believe that a similar picture will emerge once BBC3 has launched; more bad news for advertisers in an already comparatively expensive broadcast market.

Although the Government has placed “tough guidelines” on BBC3’s output to lessen the impact on commercial broadcasters, these will do little to stop audience migration (even in its current BBC Choice format, it is one of the top 20 channels viewed in digital homes).

Here is yet another example of the Government’s lack of support for commercial broadcasters. This must change if it wants advertisers to continue investing in the UK advertising market.

Andrew Canter is broadcast director at Media Planning Group

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