In a week when the BBC has decided to save money by shutting down one of its most creative TV channels BBC3, and “move it online”, I’m beginning to wonder just how much longer all the other broadcast channels are going to survive. They’ll probably all be gone in 3 or 4 years time.
But don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring. Nothing will really change. Because we don’t watch channels anymore. We watch programmes. If I fancy an episode or two of Family Guy I can switch to BBC3, or Fox, or pull up a box set from the Virgin Media server. What do I care where I see the show? Frankly, I don’t give a damn what channel I’m on. As long as I can get my fix of Family Guy, I’m not bothered.
If you’re a fan of Line of Duty, you set your TV to record the whole series, then watch it whenever you like. Your viewing patterns are no longer controlled by a pimply, Excel-punching channel scheduler in West London, they’re set by your TiVo. The only TV channel in your house is you.
So let’s not worry too much about poor old BBC3. Because it won’t be long until even BBC1 and BBC2 switch from being old-fashioned “linear” channels to being a couple of slick menu pages on iPlayer. We won’t watch BBC1 anymore, we will simply navigate our way through it.
Because of the way we all consume television nowadays, it’s really only rolling news channels like Sky News and CNN that will need to continue to broadcast “live” in the traditional sense, and even those channels will increasing cut up their content into smaller, navigable, time-shifted clips, so that we can better locate the news we’re looking for.
The least of our problems is the BBC cutting channels. It’s when they start to cut quality programming that we’ll notice the difference. When BBC1 is nothing but a navigable menu on iPlayer, they’ll be no pressure to fill a linear schedule, end to end, for 24 hours a day. So as programme production is slowly reduced, month by month, year by year, no-one will actually notice. They’ll be no gaps in the schedule, because there’ll be no schedule – just an ever decreasing online programme library, with a BBC1 logo, a search box, and a rotating continuity voiceover which says, “Coming up next on BBC1… whatever you like.”
But it’s not all bad news. No linear schedule means no Daytime TV, which means no David Dickinson and no Nick Knowles. Freed from “Homes Under the Hammer” and “Escape to the Country” we’ll be able to sit around all day just watching Dr Who, until that fateful day in the dim and distant future, when we finally realise that Dr Who is the only programme the BBC still makes.