BBC TWO has long been known as the home of more alternative programming – it often either creates cult classics or airs shows that are already cult classics – it is basically the home of interesting programming, the opposite of the more mainstream BBC One.
The problem with One is that it has to be all things to all people – the new 8pm, 90 second bulletin can’t have music or scrolling text because it annoys a certain demographic, comedy has to be more restrained and shows have to fill the middle ground.
It is the channel of the popular, the shows that everyone watches even if they’ll never admit to watching it. Shows on BBC One (especially in prime time) are expected to average more than 5 million viewers a week.
The flip side of that (and for the purpose of this blog post I’m excluding BBC Three and Four as they’re really feeder or niche market channels), is BBC Two whose goal in life is to do something different, is to serve a niche, to provide programming for a mass (million+) but not mainstream audience (Three and Four don’t need to serve the ‘mass’).
On BBC One you have Cranford, Waterloo Road, Eastenders, Casualty and Doctor Who. On BBC Two you have Big Wine Adventure, Ben’s Zoo, Nigella, University Challenge and the Tudors.
Oh and Top Gear. But like the Office and Extras, Top Gear is a niche program that seems to be watched by the masses. It has what is approaching a mainstream audience – albeit slightly, and only slightly male skewed mainstream audience.
I write a roundup of Top Gear ratings each week for the FinalGear forums and for the past two series Top Gear has been averaging around 6.5 million viewers and a 23% audience share. Those are numbers BBC One would be pleased with – but would putting Top Gear on the mainstream channel kill the show?
Some hardcore car fans already believe Top Gear is too mainstream and any comedy and cocking about should be removed as it distracts from the car – but over the last five years the show has built another hardcore fanbase of people that watch it as a light entertainment/cult comedy show and that group aren’t fussed about cars and so for them Top Gear on BBC One wouldn’t be such a big deal.
After all if it went to One it would probably get a bigger budget, it would almost be guarenteed the money to convert to HD and in turn would probably also get an inevitable BBC Two ‘extras’ show.
You’d have Top Gear on BBC One every Sunday evening and then when the show finished you’d have a BBC Two version – probably with more stuff about the cars featured/used in the ‘boys own’ stunts on the BBC One show. It could also include news and information about the car industry today.
That might be the best way for Top Gear to serve two masters – but would it kill it? Would moving to BBC One and focusing on the stunts rip the soul out of the car show or is it already that way anyway?
Does BBC One really rip the soul out of shows or is it just the ‘arena’ stage for the television acts that have gone treble platinum or have been around a while? Is BBC One really that mainstream or is it just a worn in perception?
Oh and Top Gear reached a peak of 8.5 million viewers last week (an average of 7.9 million).