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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
What lies ahead for BBC Three?
Occasional Liquid News presenter Julia Morris and Mark Frith
New atractions: Liquid News' Julia Morris and Mark Frith
Torin Douglas

A year ago this week, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell rejected the BBC's plans for its new youth channel BBC Three.

She said they weren't distinctive enough in an already crowded market, with digital channels like E4, Bravo, the Paramount Comedy Channel, Sky One and MTV already aiming at the 16-34 age group.

The rejection was a major blow to the BBC, which had described BBC Three as its most radical and innovative new venture since the launch of Radio 1.

Tony Blackburn at Radio 1's launch
BBC Three could be as radical was Radio 1 was in 1967...
Even though the culture secretary had approved all of the BBC's other new digital channels, on radio and television, BBC Three had been the best-funded and was seen as spearheading its new digital drive for audiences.

Now the BBC concedes Ms Jowell did it a favour by demanding a rethink.

Although drama and entertainment will remain at the channel's core, it beefed up the public service content, adding more news, current affairs, education, science and arts programmes - including a 15-minute news bulletin in peak time, aimed at the young.


It committed itself to ensuring that 80% of the output was specially commissioned for the new channel, with an emphasis on new talent, and that 90% was produced in Europe.

Sara Cox the BBC says Radio 1's range is proof BBC Three can do well
Insisting he was confident the channel would "bring a new public service concept to this currently underserved audience", director general Greg Dyke welcomed the decision.

Underserved? How can an audience be underserved when its market - as Tessa Jowell pointed out - is "already crowded"?

The key words here are "public service".

There is plenty of entertainment out there, but the BBC has acknowledged that as a public service broadcaster it is underserving young audiences in comparison with the middle-aged, middle-class Southern-based viewers and listeners that it serves best.

The question is whether younger TV audiences really want "public service" programming and whether BBC Three can find a way of making it appeal to them.

The BBC has achieved the trick on radio with Radio 1, which provides a much wider range of programmes than commercial stations.

But television could prove much harder, not least because there are so many more competing national channels.

Those rival channels have welcomed the tough conditions the government is imposing to make sure the BBC fulfils those public service requirements.


They had feared that if BBC Three became too popular it would damage their own prospects.

E4 logo
Channel 4 feared E4 could be damaged by BBC Three
Channel 4 - which was concerned for its digital subsidiary E4 - said: "We welcome the fact that the secretary of state has clearly listened to representations from Channel 4 and other commercial broadcasters in deciding to impose stringent conditions on her approval for BBC Three."

But what impact will BBC Three have on the drive to persuade the whole nation to go digital?

As the culture secretary pointed out, the audience it is aiming at is already well-served by digital channels.

Somehow it must find a way of appealing to those younger viewers who have yet to take the digital plunge.

Next month, the BBC will launch its Freeview service, replacing ITV Digital as the operator of the digital terrestrial television platform.

It had hoped that BBC Three would play a key part in the launch, but approval has come too late for that.

Even so, come the spring it will become part of the BBC's portfolio of free digital channels.

And at the very least, it will fill that glaring numerical gap between BBC Two and BBC Four.

BBC Three debut

New radio

Other new TV



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