Culture House Daily

An announcement for Tony Hall: BBC3 was already dead

5 March 2014

5:55 PM

5 March 2014

5:55 PM

Two words tell you everything you need to know about today’s announcement that BBC3 is to become an online-only channel: ‘spoiler alert’. The phrase is now part of the cultural language, an everyday reality for consumers of all types of media. And that’s because broadcasting – the notion that we all watch the same thing at the same time – is, for huge numbers of people, dead. Not dying – dead.

That’s why it doesn’t matter that you’ll now only be able to watch BBC3 on the iPlayer. Of all Auntie’s channels it’s surely the best one to be pushed off the terrestrial cliff first — it’s aimed at the yoot, who are tableted and broadband-ed and 4G-ed up to the gonads. The idea that they’ll be bothered by not being able to watch Pramface and Snog Marry Avoid? on that steam-powered thing in the corner of the room called a … what was it again? … oh yes, a ‘television’ … is ridiculous.

I mean, even old farts like me are used to the fact that online is now the mainstream. The biggest TV hit of recent years – Breaking Bad – has been watched by different groups of people at different times via different media. Some people signed up to Netflix for the final series last summer. I was in the group who waited for the series to be released on DVD. It meant a couple of months of making sure that Netflix-enabled friends didn’t reveal anything to me. But they were happy to do that – which is exactly my point.


We live in a Spoiler Alert world now. Everyone accepts that others might not yet have seen TV shows, and tailors their conversation accordingly. The same thing happens with films – I saw Skyfall about a month after it came out at the cinema, long after several of my friends had done so. Not a single one of them had even hinted at the Big Surprise in the final scene. Nor had any of the TV or radio pundits I’d heard talking about the film. There seemed to be an unspoken nationwide agreement that everyone would keep it a secret. Even now, a couple of years after the film’s release, I’m not going to mention it here.

These days I conduct pretty much all my BBC TV viewing via iPlayer. It’s no longer a case of ‘What’s on tonight? I must make sure I’m in front of the TV at the appointed time’. Rather it’s ‘I’ve got an hour free now – let’s see what’s been on in the last week that I fancy the look of’. And even if viewers do want to watch a series in the old way – sitting down at the same time on the same day for several weeks running – then a web-only channel offers them that option. Witness that final series of Breaking Bad – Netflix ‘released’ each week’s episode on Monday evenings, and plenty of people watched it the very minute it became available. It was, to all intents and purposes, just like the old days.

If even I can get my head round that, the BBC3 posse certainly can (once they’ve finished laughing themselves senseless at me using such an old-fashioned word as ‘posse’). I don’t want to be the spoiler of the argument some people seem determined to have — but I really think they should become alert to the new reality.

Mark Mason is an author and former BBC producer

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Show comments
  • Roddy

    What a stupid and ignorant piece of writing…. not all young people are “tableted and broadband-ed and 4G-ed up to the gonads.” For one, these things cost, not everybody has super fast broadband and my internet allowance from BT is tiny.

    • HenryWood

      ” […] and my internet allowance from BT is tiny.

      Roddy, I suggest you look elsewhere for an ISP if your “internet allowance [from BT] is tiny. To be honest, I do not really believe your claim about BT. Whilst I do not use them as my ISP, their terms seem just as reasonable as other suppliers these days. And “super fast broadband” is definitely not necessary if you do not wish to pay for it. I am with a supplier who has “unbundled” a BT exchange, putting their own gear into it, and supplying broadband at a very reasonable cost with a very reasonable speed, much faster than BT and other suppliers are offering.
      Maybe it is time you shopped around?

      (BTW, are you a “young people” who is not even tableted? – Why, I’m a “SilverSurfer” aged 70 who has 3 tablets, a Smart TV, a SmartPhone, 3 x different eReaders and goodness knows wot else. There again, I did not spend *ALL* my money on booze and drugs – only a bit of it!)

      Get with it, kiddo!

  • HD2

    Not one minute of one programme broadcast on BBC3 was worth the making, let alone the transmission.

    It’s unmitigated crap – and even Blair-educated UK ‘yoof’ recognise it as such.

    A quick glance at the current schedules suggests that the vast majority of BBC1 is also garbage, being excessively dumbed-down: more toilet than tabloid, let alone broadsheet to which a poll-tax funded organisation should aspire.

    We’re let with BBC2 and BBC4, as channels which are, today, broadly of the standard of BBC1 and BBc2 of 30 years ago.

    Oh how standards have slipped

    • Daniel

      I used to enjoy “The Real Hustle”. Can’t remember watching much else on that channel, though.

    • La Fold

      The biggest success of BBC 3 was Gavin and Stacey, which ironically was the most traditional and old school of sitcoms that has been made in years.

  • Ron Todd

    If they have an internet only channel will they use that to try and have the government or more likely the next labour government apply the television tax to any device that can receive the internet?

    • La Fold

      I refuse to pay the fee for my telly so often get the rather amusing letters about myself being under investigation etc. However on the letters it says you have to pay the Tv licence if you have a TV, a computer or laptop, a tablet, a games console such as an x box or Playstation 4 or even a smart phone.

  • hasbara

    I got rid of my TV suppliers a year ago and now rely on paid-for downloads at a fraction of the price ($16 month). I already have Mr Selfridge episode 8, not aired on TV until next Sunday.

  • MikeF

    If the axe had fallen on BBC4 then the last vestige of the BBC’s pretension to be any sort of ‘serious’ broadcaster would have been dissipated. Perhaps Mr Hall – who after all was previously responsible the Covent Garden Opera House – could now turn his attention to the embarassing shambles that much of Radio 3, once the finest arts radio station in the world, has become.

  • Noa

    The BBC’s fixation on furthering popular socialism in every facet of its output means that nothing in its own output has matched the compelling quality and brilliance of ‘Breaking Bad’.

    • La Fold

      I cant remember the last time the BBC has produced anything of the quality of many US dramas such as The Sorpanos, The Wire, The Shield or indeed Breaking bad or even the accompalishedness of Spiral, Borgen, the Killing or the Bridge. only thing that has came close is Peaky Blinders.

      • Noa

        Agreed. Given its annual income licence fee payers receive extremely poor quality output. The BBC’s engorged and overpaid management structure, works tirelessy to ensure that this remains the status quo.

      • James Strong

        Line Of Duty.

        • La Fold

          Fairly generic police procedural, hardly ground breaking stuff.
          Granted Vicky mclure is amazing as always.

      • GeeBee36_6

        Remember when we were all lectured about how the BBC did stuff no commercial channel would touch? This argument more or less consisted of the so-called period dramas, which from the few I bothered to watch seemed to consist of dressing Helena Bonham-Carter up in 200 year-old clothes, then getting the producer to redact the text upon which it was loosely based to the set of liberal left platitudes that form the BBC/ Universalist orthodoxy, and allowing the supporting cast to reduce its characters to a set of wooden, two-dimensional stereotypes. Oh yes, well worth the license fee…

        • La Fold

          We as a nation do tend to enjoy extracting the urine about the yanks take on historical events but the BBC is just as bad if not worst.
          The Robin Hood series had as one of his merry men… a middle eastern muslim slave girl and maid marion was actually a masked vigilante.
          The Musketeers currently running on BBC1 on sundays has completely butchered Dumas’ story and now Athos has Porthos’ back story while Porthos is now the son of african slave. Now ive read Dumas’ novels and this was never mentioned, hmmmm, once!

        • HenryWood

          ” […] then getting the producer to redact the text upon which it was
          loosely based to the set of liberal-left platitudes that underpin the
          BBC/Universalist orthodoxy, […]”

          Oh, how right you are! There
          was a drama on BBC TV some time ago about the “Laconia Incident” during
          WWII and I have never, ever been so disgusted at the way this story was
          changed to suit the BBC liberal-left bias. I know quite a bit about this
          story, having studied over a lifetime the subject of the U-boat arm of
          the Kriegsmarine.

          Parts of the story and the people who in real
          life lived through this drama were changed beyond all recognition. Two
          of the main players were portrayed as a German, Mata Hari type spy, and a
          rather dissolute, drunken Scottish lady who lived in a castle. Neither
          of these portraits could be further from the truth:

          The “German
          spy” actually followed the tale of Doris Hawkins, a missionary nurse who
          survived the Laconia sinking and spent 27 days adrift in Lifeboat no.9,
          finally coming ashore on the coast of Liberia. She was returning to
          England after five years in the Palestine Mandate, with a fourteen month old girl
          named Sally who sadly was lost to the sea as they were transferred in to
          the lifeboats.

          The “Scottish lady” was actually based on Gladys
          Foster who was the wife of Chaplain to the Forces, Rev. Denis Beauchamp
          Lisle Foster who had been stationed in Malta. She was onboard the ship
          with her 17-year-old daughter travelling back to Britain. During the
          mayhem of the sinking the two were separated and it wasn’t until days
          later that Gladys discovered her daughter had actually survived and was
          on another raft.

          So, the first survivor wasn’t a German and the
          second one was no Scottish lady with a castle! And nor was she a
          drunkard. It does make me wonder why they could not just have told the
          real stories of these two women, and probably other survivors’ stories
          which were “dramatised” as well? The above two true stories of the two
          women are even more heart-rending than the fictitious tales created by
          the playwright.

          Now, what upsets me about the BBC (and the
          writers they hire, Alan Bleasdale in this case) is the blatant lies that
          are told in this docu-drama story. This is only one story I had close
          knowledge of but I wonder how many more have been “adapted” to suit
          their biased outlook on the world? Why could they not simply have
          related the true stories which contained drama by the bucketload?

          And yet a poster elsewhere speaks of “BBC quality … “

      • HenryWood

        Totally agree with you and I would add the likes of “The West Wing” and even much earlier dramas such as “Hill Street Blues” and “Homicide – Life on The Street”. I have bought many of those US drama series and can watch them over again because of all the attention to detail in every episode.

        They were mould breaking but as someone else claims, we could be very happy in settling for the high quality “Casualty” and so forth for our 30p per day.

        • La Fold

          Homicide life on the streets was amazing but relegated to bizarre, disjointed late night slots on channel 4. Pretty sure it was also done by one half of the team behind the Wire. Also the prison drama Oz was brutal and sometimes a little bit too unbelievable but was still very watchable. Again all made by commercial networks.
          Oh yes, 30p a day for the likes of “30 minutes of Cockney women shouting at each other” aka Eastenders or if you’ve ever had the misfortune to see the BBC Scotland soap, River City… the horror, THE HORROR!!

  • Robert Dammers

    It seems inconceivable to me that they will generate sufficient saving by simply moving this datastream off the secondary BBC multiplex, especially since it only frees half a day of bandwidth (BBC3 and BBC3 share bandwidth with CBeebies and CBBC). So they must be shutting down some, if not all, programme making. They only exception would be things that they make for BBC 1&2, but pilot on BBC3.

  • In2minds

    BBC 3 dead, large chunks of the BBC have been brain dead for years!

  • Alexsandr

    Its all very well for those in London with high speed fibre broadband. But in the sticks then iplayer isn’t that good.
    But BBC3 will not be much missed. Much of its stuff could probably end up on bbc 1, 2 or 4 anyway. and will probably be on dave in a few months.
    lets hope freeview give the slot to something good and not another shopping channel.

    • Jon Ames

      No fibre broadband in the sticks? We’ve got it here in rural West Yorkshire. Very nice it is too. In fact it’s faster here than at my mate’s house in North London….

  • HenryWood

    “I mean, even old farts like me are used to the fact that online is now the mainstream.”

    Yes, indeed. I’m approaching my seventieth birthday (in May, all gifts gratefully received, especially gin) and my resentment of the TV Poll Tax grows stronger every year. Most of my life these days is spent perusing blogs, online news outlets, etc., etc. etc … My life, or what is left of it, *is* online.

    The very last time I switched on my Samsung Smart TV to a BBC channel was round about the beginning of the “Summer Olympics” and then when I saw some very peculiar nurses I switched off. I never even watched the “Winter ones” and therefore never understood the fury about the commentators “excitement” – though I could well imagine it.

    I very, very occasionally switch on my TV to catch up with the likes of Homer Simpson, usually when I am attempting to recover from a self-induced illness (booze!) and I need to laugh at myself. Every time I go through the motions to bring the Simpsons to my smart TV I get angrier, and angrier, *AND EVEN ANGRIER LIKE HOMER*, because not a single soul will tell me why I need to pay the BBC TV Poll Tax just so I can watch Bart and Homer Simpson on C4 (I think?)!

    I believe that the venerable Mr. Paxman once said: “It’s like putting an annual tax on every working washing machine in the UK and passing the proceeds over to the manufacturers of Persil.”

    If Mr. Paxman ever did actually say that, at least the massive number of pounds he has stolen from me to line his own pockets have not been entirely in vain. But *WHEN* will the rascal do anything about it?

    • Rory Natkiel

      Even if you don’t use it much yourself, the BBC plays an important role in the cultural life of the country and in ensuring that *all* of the TV produced in the UK is of the generally high quality that it is (compared to other countries).

      If you don’t want to pay it, get rid of your TV.

      • Adam

        Why does the BBC own TV technology in this country? I want to watch TV – but don’t want to be a customer of the BBC. What’s difficult to understand?
        If you like it, you pay for it. Just don’t be so generous with other people’s money.

        • Rory Natkiel

          It’s not as simple as that. You pay for commercial TV through pretty much every product you buy. Part of the cost of almost every single household item in the supermarkets goes towards paying for advertising on a network of channels that you’ve probably never watched. So you pay for those channels indirectly, and probably a greater amount over the course of a year than you do for the BBC.

          Those broadcasters are not compelled by law to fairly reflect the interests of the entire nation (which the BBC is), they only have to attract more advertisers. Which is why they’re generally full of sh*t TV.

          Either way the point still remains, whether or not you use it the BBC as a whole makes the country’s cultural life richer and the envy of many countries around the world. That’s something I’m willing to pay 30p a day for even if I never watch a single programme.

          • HenryWood

            “[…] Those broadcasters are not compelled by law to fairly reflect the interests of the entire nation (which the BBC is), […]”

            And if the BBC followed that “law” without fear or favour I’d be more than willing to pay for it. I appreciated listening to the BBC during my many years of overseas working. I do not appreciate what the BBC has now become.

            I am not willing to pay even 30p per day for a biased institution which ignores the interests og huge swathes of the population.

            • Rory Natkiel

              What interests does it ignore though?

              Last time I checked it had programming across its network covering almost every possible interest, from the arts to sport, original drama, news, current affairs, regional reporting, comedy, programming for deaf and blind people, pop music, classical music, light entertainment, films, a fantastic range of children’s programming, natural history. I could go on…

              I’m really struggling to see which bases it hasn’t got covered.

              • HenryWood

                OK, I am now asking a simple, straight question of you which I think deserves a straight answer. I did put the same points to the BBC at the time of the broadcast but received the usual, bland non-answers which they are so “clever” at.

                I refer to my post in this thread commenting on the drama written by Alan Bleasdale about the Laconia Incident. I would ask you to please read it then answer the following:

                Why did Bleasdale, and obviously the BBC commissioners of his drama who accepted his script, decide there was no space in the drama for a British nurse and the wife of a British Army Padre? Instead, they transformed two honourable women into a German spy and a drunken “Lady Bountiful”.

                If you cannot see anything wrong in such a blatant transformation of facts and history then there is no point in discussing the BBC – and its compulsory licence – with you.

                I await your answer with interest. Thank you.

          • La Fold

            Absolute shoe makers my pedigree chum. It is as simple as that.

            Your arguments completely miss the point, if I dont want to pay for something I dont want and dont use, then I shouldnt be forced on pain of incarceration to do so.

            Your point about the cost of house hold goods again doesnt hold up. I have the choice to either buy those goods or not to buy. No one forces me with the threat of prosecution and by sending around a centrica salesman to buy their goods.

            The BBC is meant to reflect the interests of the country? Well it doesnt represent pretty much any of my interests and have you ever seen a question time audience? A more partisan group you’ll never see. I never like to place words in people mouths but I think what youare really saying is that the BBC mostly relfects your interests.

            And so what if other commercial networks are only designed to attract more viewers? I dont have to pay for it and no one forces me too. Who am I, or you for that matter, to dictate what calibre of programming people want to broadcast if people want to watch it. As long as no one is hurting anyone else its down to the those two private parties.

            And also why have the best television programmes of the last 15 years all been made by commercial networks? the BBC would never dream of producing anything like the Sopranos, the Wire or Breaking bad.

            • Rory Natkiel

              Sorry but that’s the economics of TV advertising – you pay for ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the rest of it through the products you buy.

              And yes you are putting words in my mouth there! The BBC produces some output I like, other bits I’m just not interested in, but for me £130 per year for 4 commercial TV channels and 6 Radio Stations is pretty good value 🙂

          • ButcombeMan

            The truth is the BBC is too fat, tries to do too many things and does them without regard in many cases, to value for money. There are too many overpaid paper pushers busy scratching each others backs. The trustees have no grip on it. it should be shrunk substantially and much sold off.

      • HenryWood

        If you want to talk generally high quality lets make a start with some drama series I have even bought on DVD after watching them on commercial channels many years ago. Go back to “Homicide – Life On The Street”; “NYPD Blues”; “The West Wing”; “The Sopranos”; and so on and so on. In documentaries “The World At War” has never been surpassed.

        Yes, the BBC has *had* its moments but they are long gone. I do not want the BBC and the thought of paying compulsorily for something I do not require goes against the grain.

        In this age of digital technology, it could be made to happen tomorrow that the BBC goes subscription only and you and yours could revel in the “important role in the cultural life of the country” you are experiencing. The rest of us who do not wish to follow *YOUR* definition of important culture could wallow in “full of sh*t TV” as you call it.

        • Rory Natkiel

          Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries are widely recognised as the best in the world, so to say it’s past its best is debatable.

          If it did go subscription we wouldn’t be able to revel in it, because they’d be forced to pander to viewing figures more than they do now and half the output would go.

          Personally I think it’s important that minority interests are represented across our media in this country and the BBC plays a really important part in that, although we obviously disagree!

          • HenryWood

            “Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries are widely recognised as the best
            in the world, so to say it’s past its best is debatable.” –
            Now, I agree with you there, but only along with my qualifier that they “were the best in the world”. Have you attempted to watch any lately?

            I gave up on “The Blue Planet” solely because of background “music” which consisted of stuff created by something synthetic. The squeaks, groans and screeches could not possibly have come from anything in the depths of the ocean so it was “created” probably to give “added value” in Birt-speak.

            I have a theory about all this unnecessary background noise. Someone tried it out once and found it was a nice little earner for some of his “musician” chums. Since then it has just grow’d like Topsy. There have been thousands upopn thosands of complaints about this noise and has been discussed many times on the R4 programme Feedback, but on come the producers and dismiss it all with their condescending tripe.

  • Kitty MLB

    Much prefer BB4 anyway as you see reasonable foreign language programmes.

  • Nick

    Well I’ve seen Skyfall many times and I didn’t find the last scenes remotely surprising. What am I missing?

    • First L

      Judi Dench.

      • Ron Todd

        Skyfall is that the one where they capture the world greatest computer hacker and then plug his laptop straight into the mainframe that contains all the nations secrets?

        • GeeBee36_6

          Very droll! I hadn’t even thought of that.