BBC Three boss Damian Kavanagh has defended the channel’s performance after research suggested almost a fifth of viewers had switched off since it moved online.
In February BBC Three became the first established UK channel to move online, with content being available via the BBC’s iPlayer service and selected shows also broadcast on BBC One and BBC Two.
The decision to move online was taken partly in response to cuts in the BBC’s funding, with Director-General Tony Hall saying it was no longer possible to salami slice services without damaging the quality of the broadcaster’s output.
Instead, Lord Hall announced a fresh wave of job cuts, widespread re-organisations within the BBC and the axing of BBC Three’s traditional linear broadcast service.
While the decision was fiercely opposed by many in the channel’s key 16-34 year old audience and some programme makers, BBC bosses said the move simply reflected wider changes in how younger people watch content.
However earlier this week TV marketing body Thinkbox published research which suggested BBC TV viewing among 16-34 year olds declined by 18% between March and May, 10 points more than the general decline in BBC TV viewing.
According to the research commercial broadcasters have seen an increase in viewing from the same group.
Matt Hill, research and planning director at Thinkbox, said: “TV is thriving on all screens, but the importance of TV channels on TV sets cannot be overlooked.
“They remain the first port of call for the majority of people of all ages [and] the apparent boost that commercial TV has received from BBC Three’s disappearance from the schedules underlines this fact.”
Publication and media coverage of the research has prompted Kavanagh to launch a robust defence of his channel, pointing out that seven of the top 20 most requested iPlayer programmes of the year were BBC Three commissions.
The BBC also highlights that BBC Three has grown its online and social media presence and now boasts more followers than many of its rivals, perhaps indicating that promises of making short-form content more accessible are being delivered on.
Kavanagh commented: “These are still early days for BBC Three and I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time.
“I’m delighted young people love our shows like Thirteen, Fleabag, Drugs Map of Britain and Chasing Dad.
“We’re contributing more to iPlayer than before and that’s with fewer shows, and when our shows are on BBC One and Two they’re attracting more young people than before. It’s clear young people are finding and sharing the content we are making.
“Reinventing the BBC’s offer for young people won’t happen overnight, it’s a marathon not a sprint, but the early signs are very encouraging.”