It has recently been reported that BBC Four will be made into an archive channel, no longer producing original content for its audiences. Since its launch in 2002, for nearly two decades it has provided a selection of diverting content, from documentaries and crime dramas to comedies and sketch shows; but in recent years has undergone considerable strain. The channel has sought to provide alternative BBC content, achieving some success especially with the popularity of such favourites like The Detectorists, the metal-detecting sitcom starring Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook and as an innovative base for arts and culture. It has even become a home for such international overseas hits, like the Nordic noir dramas The Killing and The Bridge, to name but a few (thankfully, long may this tradition continue). But has the decision to cease commissioning original content been a wise one?
The news, which was released in March, seemed to reflect its sister channel BBC Three’s decision to disband in 2016, releasing its content directly to the online streaming platform BBC iPlayer. While this achieved significant success, having always marketed its programming to a younger demographic, it has been sadly short-lived as the decision was recently reversed. Compared to original favourites such as Gavin and Stacey and Being Human which relied on television ratings, more recent shows like Killing Eve and Normal People became successful through the convenience of streaming. So why, you may ask, does BBC Four feel like the elephant in the room in this respect? The channel, airing after 7pm has a small but devoted audience compared to its larger and established siblings BBC One and Two, which have run for over half a century, respectively. This has meant that BBC Four, the black sheep of the BBC family can become lost in the prime time viewing slot, and certainly in the past year has relied on running repeats of programmes from the BBC archives. But is there a future for the channel to operate in this way?
It seems only time will tell concerning the channel’s future, as reruns of Top of the Pops and Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting become its lifeline. But while commissioning original content remains limited for the big leaders of satellite television, BBC Four will remain an option for viewers that still provides content they may have missed before or wish to revisit.