“A programme costs to make what a programme costs to make.”
I don’t think I’ve ever watched BBC3 and when – as now seems pretty inevitable – it ceases to be I will certainly not miss it. But the BBC’s decision to two-thirds kill it off (you can read about the details elsewhere and most likely have already done so: this is hardly news by now) speaks volumes about the BBC’s current ‘difficulties’. The principle of thing is important, if nothing else.
One of the most important of which is that the people running the BBC appear to live in a strange world of their own in which the normal rules of logic do not apply. This is obviously a tiny bit of a problem.
If the point of mostly-scrapping BBC3 is to save money, then it makes no sense (no sense whatsoever) to continue to commission programmes for the channel. It also makes no sense to also declare that the money (thirty million quid, no less) ‘saved’ from mostly-scrapping BBC3 can be given to BBC1*. But doesn’t the BBC have to make large cuts, apparently? And isn’t that why BBC3 being sent to the televisual glue factory? How can this be so when it will continue to make programmes (to be shown online)** and when money (thirty million quid, no less) will be given to BBC1? We are back, it appears, to the sort of magical thinking that, in a different context of course, Dennis Potter deplored. This is not encouraging.
Ubiquitous (but often not wrong) media pundit Steve Hewlett has suggested) that the whole thing may well be a ploy by BBC management to convince a not unhostile government to understand that cuts will mean a loss of services. But, as he points out, considering the sheer amount of money wasted in other parts of the BBC (including management!), this ploy (if a ploy it is) could easily backfire hideously. This is not terribly encouraging either.
It is also presumably possible that BBC brass had been looking for an excuse to get rid of a channel that many obviously regarded as an embarrassment, and decided to use the great financial pressure that the BBC is under*** to kill it and kill it dead. Though, again, this would be a pretty stupid way of going about that for obvious reasons.
Anyway, it is clear to anyone with eyes to see that if the BBC must make cuts then small-and-cheap channels are not the right places to hit. In the grand scheme of things, they barely cost the corporation anything. If there must be cuts, then it is pretty obvious where they ought to be made (so obvious that I’m not going to bother typing it out), yet this is not happening.
There is, I think, a very simple reasons for this. Other than the self-interest of self-interested members of the managerial class (but that goes without saying). Because lying behind it (probably, anyway) and many other questionable decisions made by BBC management in recent years (certainly) are two assumptions that are dear to the hearts of those that run the BBC:
1. The idea that cultural output can be neatly divided into ‘mainstream’ and ‘minority interest’.
2. The idea that people watch television channels, and not individual television programmes.
In the digital age, both of these assumptions reflect cultural reality about as well as military theory c.1914 did the reality of war in the machine age.
*Which, as it happens, takes the lions share of the BBC television budget:
BBC1 – £1,051 million, BBC2 – £415 million, BBC3 – £85 million, CBBC – £79 million, BBC News Channel – £53 million, BBC4 – £49 million, CBeebies – £29 million, BBC Parliament – £2 million.
**Worth noting that BBC management is completely clueless as to how people under thirty actually watch television, but in the unlikely event that someone from said bad-suited mass is reading this, here’s a helpful clue: ‘traditional’ and online content are not necessarily ‘rivals’, as such. Different forms of television may even be said to be used by many people in a broadly complementary manner. I understand.
***And yet the corporation can still – it would appear – afford to blow millions on the Doctor Who Anniversary Spectacular,*** on expensive press junkets, on expensive foreign specials for certain progammes on BBC1, on the employment of approximately thirty thousand identikit ‘political correspondents’, and on massive payouts for sacked senior managers.
****I have nothing against Doctor Who, but an egregious waste of money is an egregious waste of money.