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Why reuniting BBC Three with its audience online will be difficult

The decision to make BBC Three only available on the iPlayer flies in the face of viewing trends, warns Emerson Bramwell, head of insight at Dentsu Aegis Media's Vizeum UK.

Why a huge effort will be required to reunite BBC Three with its audience online

Why a huge effort will be required to reunite BBC Three with its audience online

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There’s an ad that always springs to mind when I think about the BBC. It’s from 1996 and features Reeves and Mortimer as the stars of a range of ridiculous spoof TV programmes.

Fortunately, we’re only left to imagine that ‘Detective in a Wheelbarrow’, ‘Three Blokes in a Bath’ and ‘Poldark on Mopeds’ would struggle to find a home on any TV channel but the message is clear: taking risks has always been in the organisation’s DNA.

While there is a lot of pride in this philosophy, it is this element of the corporation’s identity that has come under serious scrutiny with the decision to migrate BBC Three content from a dedicated channel to an online home in the name of austerity. The channel had firmly established itself as a breeding ground for new talent and as a vehicle to deliver content specifically aimed at a youth audience.

Much of the initial ire that the BBC has faced for the decision has centred on how the loss will affect this greenhouse for new talent and the wider creative industries. In response, ‘Auntie’ is able to point to the well-documented increase in the consumption of content through the internet as an indication that it can continue to serve this audience online. The reality though doesn’t quite match-up.

In fact, our proprietary media data (CSS) suggests that the switch is just the first step and that a huge effort will be required to reunite BBC Three with its audience when the channel moves to its new home.

Keeping pace with the catch-up generation

The BBC itself would admit that young people have yet to truly embrace the internet as their first port of call to view TV. It estimates that a quarter of all viewing takes place through online channels, and that this is likely to grow to 40% during the next few years.

This anticipated growth explains why the BBC has made the iPlayer a focus of its digital media strategy in recent years and established such a strong brand identity for its online offering. In fact, only 30% of 16- to 34-year-olds currently use iPlayer regularly.

Crucially though, the majority of this is for catching-up with missed episodes or TV shows they already know about, and rarely for the discovery of new content. This figure drops further to 11% among under-served youth audiences (those who engage little or not at all with any other BBC services), which the BBC is focused on.

Diverting content to other channels is unlikely to cater to this group as only a quarter believe that BBC One is ‘aimed at them’ and therefore a place they will naturally expect to find programmes made for them.

These figures shows that current viewing patterns leave little room for natural discovery of new youth programmes on iPlayer, and that the remaining two-thirds will not naturally come across future BBC youth TV content housed solely on iPlayer, BBC One or BBC Two.

Serving an audience means bringing new content directly to them and not expecting them to go hunting for what you can potentially offer. The BBC’s new youth channel strategy is likely to reduce the physical availability of its programming for that group. Therefore, for this approach to work, they will need to seriously invest in building mental availability.

A commercial solution

The BBC made the first step in solving this issue by revamping iPlayer to increase the focus on new content through this digital channel. However, it will also need to develop a marketing strategy that extends beyond programme promotion on its owned channels, or targeting specific groups in a focused manner, if it is truly going shift the perception of iPlayer as a catch-up portal.

Young audiences that currently make an ‘appointment-to-view’ with BBC Three will become floating audiences that other channels with a youth focus such as E4 and VIVA will be able to attract. As a result, the pockets of audience that the corporation loses are unlikely to be found solely on their own channels and the BBC will need to make significant investment in off-air (commercial) media, with support from Radio One, to drive them to its revised offering.

The good news, however, is that the BBC has form when it comes to changing the nation’s digital behaviour through communication - with the original launch of iPlayer and their support of Freeview being notable examples.

Emerson Bramwell is head of insight at Vizeum UK

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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