What Does BBC Three’s Online Move Mean for Class & British TV?

So farewell, then, to BBC3 – at least in its former incarnation as a television channel. Monday 15th February saw the channel take its leave of our electronic programme guides as it made the transition to become an ‘online first destination’.

The BBC have been desperate to portray the decision in the most positive light possible, with executives insisting that the move online will free up creative talent to make innovative content without the strictures imposed by the need to fill a nightly schedule on broadcast television. They may have a point, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the BBC were forced to sacrifice the channel by the need to make drastic cuts to their budget.

So what does the BBC3’s regeneration into an online-only presence mean for forthcoming Doctor Who spin-off series Class, due to launch this autumn? And for the future of British television as a whole?

Firstly lets take a quick run through the ways to watch BBC3 content (and there are a few…). All programmes will be available via the BBC iPlayer, as they were before, as well as on the revamped BBC3 website. Handy tabs (Comedy, Drama, Documentaries and so on) will help viewers find things they want to watch as will The Daily Drop, a stream of new content on the site updated, well… daily. As you’d expect for a youth-oriented channel, there’s a big role for social media in all of this, with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and so on all featuring pages with that much-derided new BBC3 logo.

This wealth of different platforms on offer surely encapsulates the biggest risk of taking BBC3 off the air – that programmes, however good they may be, will become lost in the crowded ether of the internet with hidden gems remaining hidden, known only to the enthusiastic techie few who have the time and the know-how to track them down. Importantly however, the BBC has pledged that all new BBC3 programming will get an airing on BBC1 or BBC2 at a later date, so the more old-school viewers will have an opportunity to watch without having to work out how to switch their kid’s tablets on.

BBC Three

Given the need to ensure that new BBC3 programmes get the best possible chance of reaching a significant audience, it’s understandable why the corporation wanted a show attached to Doctor Who to help BBC3 make it through the first year of its new form. Sharing the same universe as one of its most recognisable and established drama hits will help attract the media coverage and launch buzz needed to pull in the viewing public who may otherwise let a new sci-fi drama pass them by.

Details are still scarce as to what we can expect from Class. Publicity from the announcement of the show told us to expect a young-adult vibe and writer Patrick Ness certainly has form in that genre with a number of best-sellers to his name. Whether BBC3’s target audience will feel that a series set in a school sounds a bit young for their tastes will perhaps be a key question, though it’s worth remembering that the channel has a good record when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy shows with In the Flesh and The Fades, both sadly cancelled before their time, and Toby Whithouse’s Being Human which ran for five successful series. The Doctor Who connection will certainly bring a portion of the parent show’s audience and help Class get a hearing but ultimately it will stand or fall on its own merits.

As Digital Spy’s Morgan Jeffery writes, the BBC’s approach to its third channel in its new online form is a ‘decent enough solution’ given the circumstances and the corporation is certainly working hard to convince licence-payers that it hasn’t abandoned younger viewers. It may be that in future years we will look back and see BBC3’s shift online as a significant stepping stone in the journey away from traditional analogue broadcaster towards becoming a more web-savvy, technology-friendly source of content in line with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and others. It’s hard to escape that nagging concern that political forces continue to be hostile to the BBC, which isn’t always as forceful as it could be in standing up for itself. But that aside, it’s certainly going to be fascinating to see how BBC3’s future (and the BBC’s future as a whole) plays out.

What do you think? Does the move online mean you’re less likely to watch BBC3? What impact will it have on Class? Let us know your views!


Jonathan has followed the Doctor's adventures since the late Pertwee era, and he isn't about to stop now. A charity worker from Hull, he enjoys following Hull City's fortunes, listening to Bruce Springsteen and collecting all manner of Doctor Who ephemera. He blogs about Doctor Who merchandise at www.mydoctorwhostuff.co.uk.

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