My BBC DQF Proposal

Another day, another proposal under the BBC’s Delivering Quality First (DQF) – aka, what significant cuts can we make as painlessly as possible?
We’ve had plenty of them to date including the gutting of BBC Local radio, stopping late night or daytime broadcasts. Just today, the BBC News channel (or BBC News 24 as it’s just about universally still known) is the latest in line. I would like to see a few more reports from the BBC nations and regions on BBC News – they’ve been edited up and packaged already. There’s a half-hour programme just waiting to be made, probably requiring a single editor/producer. But enough of that. Allow me to introduce my proposal.
To make some key savings, you’ve got to look to television. Radio is just too small. Unless you attack the budgets of Radio 3 or Radio 4, both as culturally important to UK society as any other thing, then there’s not really a great deal to go for.
Of course Radio 1, Radio 2 and Five Live have budgets every commercial station would kill for. But in the scheme of things, we need to look bigger. I assume it was this thinking that has led to a reprieve for the Asian Network.
One of the proposals mentioned today was taking BBC Parliament online. That would save £6.5m pa according to the most recent BBC Accounts. A parliamentary channel is never going to be popular, but it’s an important part of our democracy. Saving a trivial amount of cash to deprive those who are not on the internet (that’s a lot of people, disproportionately biased towards the elderly) of that answerability, and at a time when libraries are shutting, seems futile. If the BBC can make central Government pay, that’s a possibility, although there is still journalistic rigourousness required, so it might be better being at arm’s length from the government.
I’m concerned about cuts surrounding daytime. While the over reliance on shows based around selling off antiques and doing up homes needs some serious addressing, we need to consider very carefully our elderly. Daytime repeats of primetime shows might be the way forward to save some cash here. I assume same week repeats don’t incur repeat fees for performers?
But enough of what I wouldn’t do. What would I do?
Move BBC Three online.
And by that, I mean cut vast amounts of what it does, and leave the remainder online, cutting distribution costs. Essentially, BBC Three would become a red-button service.
Allow me to expand. BBC Three costs £118.6m pa according to the BBC report and accounts (page F32).
Of that £87.5m is on “content“, with £6.8m on distribution (so very similar to BBC Parliament), and £24.3m in infrastructure and support.
Compared with that, BBC Four costs £74.0m and BBC Two £575.6m.
Quite why BBC Three and BBC Parliament’s distribution costs should be nearly double BBC Four’s at £3.8m I’m not sure. On Freeview and Sky, BBC Three and BBC Four, timeshare a multiplex with CBBC and CBeebies, while BBC Parliament is 24/7. Anyway, that’s a question for another day.
I’d chop that “content” fee right down. BBC Three is the least original of the BBC’s digital offerings, with elements of it replicated by commercial rivals including E4, ITV2, Sky One and Sky Living. It’s biggest ratings come from narrative repeats of popular BBC One and BBC Two shows like Eastenders, Doctor Who and Top Gear.
While it has broken some new comedy, for every Gavin & Stacey, there’s a White Van Man. BBC Two and BBC Four could easily fulfill this need. Dramas like Being Human could happily sit on BBC Two. And nobody at all would miss programming like Snog, Marry, Avoid.
BBC Three does produce a few decent single documentaries that make accessible relevant issues to a younger audience. And it’s this programming that I’d put behind the red button. In the same way that various sports highlight packages and concerts employ bandwidth under the red button, I’d have these programmes on a permament roll. Some would fit in that awkward post-news BBC One slot early in the week. You find exactly these BBC Three docs showing in that slot anyway.
Some of the comedy elements would exist in an online world only. I envisage a YouTube-style comedy environment to encourage new writers and performers.
BBC Two and BBC Four would widen their remits a bit – the former for drama (which it’s doing anyway) – and the latter for more comedy (something it’s seemingly about to back away from).
Freeview would gain an extra red button channel – something it really needs. CBBC could extend its hours to 8pm.
I’d run Doctor Who repeats on CBBC in the 7pm hour. Eastenders repeats could go on BBC One in the afternoons – perhaps with edits.
While I’m changing everything, I’d move children’s programming back from BBC Two to BBC One, running to at least 5.30pm. Then run something like Eggheads for the next half an hour. Hiding kids programming away only on the kids’ channels isn’t a good idea in the long term. The BBC really shouldn’t be caring about audience sizes at that time of day. Who cares if C4/ITV has bigger shows between 5 and 6? It doesn’t matter. While you could keep Anne Robinson on BBC Two, I’d look to archive or films filling the 4-6pm slot on BBC Two. Then maybe a quiz format like that Alexander Armstrong one through until 7pm.
I reckon you could save at least £80m in this way. That’s the sort of levels the BBC’s trying to achieve isn’t it?


  1. They won’t move content onto the Red Button, as it will get lost to a lot of viewers, who would have to put a lot more effort in to finding it.
    If they did reduce the content down, they might as well keep BBC Three, but on a reduced level.
    CBBC should run to increased hours and could take some content such as Doctor Who, but the logic of moving EastEnders to the afternoon is wrong. It is a big pull for BBC Three, so why move it to an afternoon slot, when it wouldn’t reach the same people?
    For CBBC moving from BBC Two to One, it is already on BBC One the vast majority of the time, so this isn’t a solution. The only thing that has moved is Saturday morning TV, which moved to allow Saturday Kitchen to run. As they hardly do Saturday morning TV anymore, with only one or two live shows running per year, there is little point of moving it back to BBC One. Weakest Link should move back to BBC Two, as it severely reduced the audience for Blue Peter etc and Newsround, so reinstate them back in their previous slots and put a (edited if necessry) Doctors repeat in the old Neighbours slot.
    The answer is a slimmed down version of BBC Three, with the best content from what currently runs, the right repeats and reduce hours. Run it from 9pm til 1am, with CBBC going up til 9pm.

  2. I hadn’t quite taken on board the CBBC on BBC One issue. Although I know it’s sometimes seen as an option. Quite how it’d save money is unclear. Obviously post 2012, the entire population will be digital, so will have access to CBBC. But having programmes on your premier network also means kids feel included rather than excluded.
    CBBC should certainly run to 5.30pm though. There must be kids who simply don’t get home from school in time to see anything as it stands.
    As for Eastenders losing its audience by my afternoon switch – well that’s true. But on the other hand – BBC Three’s audience is largely built on these narrative repeats of Eastender and the like. That’s not a good enough reason to keep a channel broadcasting. We’re talking about people who are unwilling or unable to programme a PVR or VCR, and who don’t have internet access.
    If the Eastenders repeat also went behind the red button, then it would enable more discovery.
    Let’s not forget that Eastenders does get another same week repeat in the Sunday omnibus. There’s not a shortage of ways to watch it.
    My main point is that if you strip out BBC One and BBC Two programmes, you end up with a handful that could sit on BBC Two or BBC Four, and just a couple of programmes that are unique. That’s why I’d strip it right back.

  3. I disagree with the red button idea, just the other week there was a very good documentary on breastfeeding on BBC Three, and you can bet a lot of its viewers came because it was sandwiched between EastEnders and whatever was on before.
    If you move it online or on the red button you lose all these potential viewers. I think also you miss the important message behind shows like Snog, Marry, Avoid. It’s not the same as the trash on ITV2 as it has a strong message to young people but in an accessible way.
    I think the real elephant in the room is BBC Two, £600million and what exactly does it do? I think pretty much every show on BBC Two could fit comfortably on another BBC channel. It’s not targeted in the way BBC Three and Four are, doesn’t have the prestige of BBC One and costs a huge amount of money.
    All it shows during the day is more antiques shows which replicate what is on BBC One, the politics shows can be moved to News or Parliament and the better gameshows can be placed on BBC One.
    On an early evening they only seem to show repeats and the primetime drama, comedy and documentaries can all be comfortably split between 1/3/4.
    Get rid of Two and you can also start BBC Four at 6pm, leave CBBC on until 8pm and have an extra red button stream for much of the day. Problem solved, surely?

  4. In reference to EastEnders, people prefer to sit down to watch without the need to set a PVR/VHS to record. This is part of the reason why the repeat gets the ratings. Until a time when you can get BBC iplayer across all TV (it is widespread already, but it will be across all TVs after switchover) and more seamlessly integrated into TV viewing, such as YouView, regular slots for some repeat shows, such as this one, are going to pull the ratings and justify themselves.
    Red Button is not a solution – content is too hidden. The concept of putting content on the Red Button and looping it is fine. However, to make it easier, just call it BBC Three and give it a channel number still! The difference between your Red Button idea and keeping BBC Three as a name and channel is great opportunity to view and the EPG cost. It would be a streamlined BBC Three.

  5. Dan,
    I think what I’m saying is basically the same as you except for the small detail that I think it’s BBC Three that’s the unnecessary channel. By contrast BBC Two produces highbrow drama on significant budgets and some unparalleled documentaries. Newsnight? Horizon? Gardener’s World? Later…? Opinionated? Springwatch? Natural World? I could easily go on.
    What I’d add to BBC Two in daytime is classic films. Cheap, and only Channel 4 shows any films of note.
    The breastfeeding documentary you mention would work quite as well on BBC One, just as BBC One showed that Kara Tointon documentary about dyslexia was.
    There are plenty of people watching Eastenders on BBC Three – I’ll happily admit. But the fact that the most popular programme on BBC Three is a repeat of a programme shown earlier on BBC One is simply not good enough reason for a whole channel to exist. Particularly when that programme gets a same week repeat on Sunday. The BBC has to find some significant savings, and culling vast amounts of BBC Three would make those savings.

  6. If the BBC have nothing to put on during BBC Two’s daytime hours my suggestion is that it becomes an evening only channel, say 18:00 to 04:00. From 04:00 to 18:00 CBeebies could broadcast.
    This would free-up capacity for BBC Three or BBC Four to broadcast 24/7.
    I think a 24 hour BBC Three might be the key to the BBC reaching a younger adult TV audience that it is so desperate for. I have no idea what BARB says about the habbits of 15-24 year olds during daytimes, but I suspect it is a diet of reruns of Friends on E4 and Top Gear on Dave. I am sure there is scope for BBC Three to repeat other prime time shows either imported or from the BBC during daytime.
    I am not really bothered what happens, but I’d rather see the BBC operating ‘proper’ channels during the daytime rather than relying on simulcasts or red button.

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