As a second year student, I have only recently been reunited with the concept of a television set. When I reached the age of about fifteen, I was driven from my family living room where the box sat, by a supreme lack of desire to watch the kind of bilge my parents enjoyed, before last year moving into halls and being unable to watch the bloody thing entirely. This is not to say, then, that I just stopped watching television itself; I watched an extraordinary amount of TV, falling madly in love with it as a medium and keen to extol its virtues to legions of motion picture snobs, cultural luddites and other assorted detractors. But I watched it like many of my generation now do, on my laptop, episode after episode until the wee hours of the morning.
Back to now, where the television is now once again a kind of moderately social feature of our shared living room and I have returned to paying small amounts of homage to the gods of terrestrial broadcast. After two terms of this arrangement I could recite to you the schedules of about three channels from memory, because these are quite literally the only ones we watch. They are E4, Dave and BBC Three. Why these? Because these are the channels of the yoof, with our comedy panel shows and all the vulgar American imports we love so much but which my parents would deride as “bloody silly rubbish”.
So it was a twinge of sadness I felt then when I heard the news that BBC Three would be becoming an online only channel. It’s hard to not conjure in your mind an image of the middle aged bean counters and culture snobs who invariably run the corporation taking great glee in bringing the axe down on the channel of the hated younger generation. “Why not BBC Four?” We cry. It’s utter dung, and even less people seem to watch it. Well, you know, I hate to admit it, but I can kind of see their point.
I read a good article by Mark Mason in The Spectator making, if not a case for the scrapping of BBC Three as a terrestrial channel, then at very least a justification for why it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We young bucks are all already old hands of Netflix and iPlayer and the otherwise slightly less legal corners of the internet where free television can be found. Many of us watch our TV there, not just out of necessity, but because we actually prefer it. No longer am I prepared to wait a full week for the next episode. I will have my fill of Castle and the demi-god that is Nathan Fillion and then I shall rest. The viewer base of BBC Four have no such luxury. BBC Four is a channel for Peregrine Worsthorne and Radio 4 listeners who can’t get a signal. The sort of people that refuse to let their children play video games and are eternally paranoid that their mobile phones will give them brain cancer, not exactly fertile ground for Netflix and co.
Ultimately, they need their channel in a way that we just don’t, and it’s far from our last terrestrial bolthole. E4 does and will continue to do an infinitely better job of what BBC Three liked to think it did. The best part of BBC Three is the late night runs of Family Guy and American Dad, of which they have the British broadcast rights and which are crucially not their shows. Other than that, what precisely is on? Not a tremendous amount, the sort of short run British sitcoms which try to combine the worst parts of British and American humour into a kind of amorphous blob of vaguely depressing television. That, and shows like Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents which actively go out of their way to portray the very worst specimens of our generation, and the most heinous examples of its culture.
This is of course not to say there was never any good stuff on BBC Three. Almost every decent BBC comedy show of the last ten years or so started life on the channel. But we are the yoof, and the yoof will endure this loss. We need no concessions from stuffy auntie beeb. We can watch anything we like on our computers, our phones and within the next ten years presumably on screens in our stomachs like the fucking teletubbies. It actually seems rather fitting that it should be our channel, the channel of the younger generation that first makes the move from on-air to online. Which in many ways could be viewed as a move towards the future, and the future after all, is us.