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The future's here, the future’s BBC Three

Damian Kavanagh

Digital Controller, BBC Three

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It's been busy at BBC Three. We left TV behind six weeks ago and since then we've had a range of new shows, new formats and new talent cutting through.

Our shows have been permanent fixtures in BBC iPlayer's most popular with all episodes of Thirteen, Sex In Strange Places, Cuckoo and Life And Death Row featuring in the top 5.

Episode one of our contemporary British drama Thirteen has had over 2.4m requests so far. To put that into context the last Sherlock did 2.4m when it was available in January. It shows our content cuts through with a young audience wherever it is.  Our new drama Murdered By My Father is up there now. It had 850k requests in under a week before it aired on BBC One, and now has over a million. Cuckoo: Birth is at 1.2m and Life and Death Row: Execution and Sex In Strange Places: Turkey are now both over a million.

It’s great our shows are reaching our audience but I want more than numbers to define success. Appreciation, engagement and impact with our audience are just as important today. Calls to the Maytree charity from young men increased significantly after Professor Green: Suicide and Me. Reggie and Stacey’s films have cut through. Murdered By My Father has already led to people contacting us to say it has changed their lives, and I’m sure our new strand Drugs Map of Britain will as well. If we just wanted big numbers we’d have Justin Bieber playing snap with The Chuckle Brothers or endless videos of cute cats.

We’ve had critical acclaim with standout reviews for all our shows including this from The Daily Telegraph: "Thirteen has an imagination and an ambition that is refreshing – it’s exactly the kind of drama that BBC Three should be making." 

We’ve had Reggie Yates win awards for Extreme Russia. People Just Do Nothing, Murder In Successville, Don't Take My Baby, Asian Provocateur and Suicide And Me have received nominations for Baftas, RTSs, BPGs or Broadcast Awards. Here’s hoping Ruth Madeley, BAFTA-nominated for Don't Take My Baby, can repeat the success of Georgina Campbell who won for Murdered By My Boyfriend last year. What was that about new talent and BBC Three?

Talking new talent, Murdered By My Father - from the team behind Murdered By My Boyfriend - stars Adeel Ahktar, Kiran Sonia Sawar and Mawaan Rizwan and is written by new writer Vinay Patel. It demonstrates how BBC Three is working with the brightest new talent and tackling issues and taking risks. It’s accompanied by a short film defining Love, Shame and Guilt, a piece about the recent history of 'honour' crimes and BBC Three’s first podcast exploring the story of an arranged marriage. What we are doing at BBC Three is giving young people a deeper understanding of the issues we cover.

We're experimenting with scheduling. Flat TV, the Tom Rosenthal and Naz Osmanoglu comedy was made available as a box set so you could binge watch - it's available now alongside box sets of BBC Three classics including Some Girls and In The Flesh. We have all Chris Lilley's work so coming soon expect Summer Heights High and Ja'imie box sets soon. We kick off with new title We Can Be Heroes available from April.

We're experimenting with lots of things. BBC Three produced Eddie Izzard's #MarathonMan and followed every moment with daily video updates on The Daily Drop, Instagram posts, live Periscope from South Africa, Facebook 360 videos, Twitter interviews, YouTube wrap ups. We used whatever platform was appropriate to deliver a truly immersive experience that captured his challenge. So far Eddie has raised over £2 million for Sport Relief and it’s been a great learning experience for us. We changed where we published content as the days went along when we saw what worked best. This again highlights the complexity of combining data from different platforms over different windows. You can’t simply add the numbers together for The Daily Drop, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram that all carried the same or similar pieces of content.

Our short form slate is working. Emily Yates' Meet The Devotees about disability fetishisation received widespread attention as did The Dark Side Of Gaming. We did say we'd provoke reactions! Praise goes to one of our young producers who wrote "I've been called a curry muncher" to go with the gaming film about his experiences online. It prompted a frank discussion on Reddit; a group who lets be frank don't come to BBC Three that often and are exactly the underserved audiences we want to reach.

Our retuning strand Things I Can't Unsee has covered gangs, taxi drivers in Bradford and fire fighters with more compelling real life testimonies to come.  These are slow burners and often resurface when there are news items relating to the subject.  15 and On Steroids was doing well across all our platforms but saw a significant uplift in the third week because it started getting shared. The Taylor and Greg citizenship test from Cuckoo has followed a similar path. It’s had millions of views across Facebook, Twitter and The Best Of BBC Three and has just become BBC Three’s most viewed on YouTube.

Every day we produce Three From Three on The Daily Drop, three news stories we think young people would like to be across that day. These are sourced from our partners in news but also link to external sites. Its early days but we can see people are coming to these once they’re shared on social and getting into a habit of coming back regularly.

We're experimenting with content of different forms and lengths. If you’re a Liverpool fan you might like this. If you prefer University Challenge this might be up your street. Or maybe our resident YouTuber Maxim Bady, who brings his weekly take on the world, might be to your taste.

These are early days for BBC Three but I'm overjoyed with what we've achieved so far. It’s a marathon not a sprint but so far we’ve exceeded expectations.  We're iterating what we do with people, products and content and in many ways chose the harder path. We know transforming the BBC's offer for young people won't happen overnight, but with what we've achieved so far, and what's coming the future‘s bright. We're building a fantastic team and working in new ways that are paying off, and earlier than we expected.

We're taking risks which can be scary for people who are familiar with traditional TV but my advice is simple. Great content is great content and it will find its audience whatever the means of distribution. We're platform neutral at BBC Three which is clear from who we're looking to partner with. We want to work with people that share our spirit of adventure and want to innovate.

We have a huge amount of support behind us with the reach of BBC TV, Radio and Online. We're also putting a huge amount of effort into reaching new audiences in new ways and being less reliant on traditional media. Like I say, these are early days but we are ahead of the game.

I'll leave it there for now. I’m going to write a post with all the stuff we have coming soon including new formats, new comedy, new talent and some big projects with some of the biggest names around that will raise a few eyebrows, the deals aren't done yet. More to follow.

And if you haven't watched Thirteen I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.  

Damian Kavanagh is Digital Controller, BBC Three 

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