Nica Burns: Edinburgh Comedy Awards director says comedians will find it harder to get noticed as comedies go to online-only BBC3

'It became vital to the development of unknown comedy talent, giving them their first chance on TV,' Ms Burns said.

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The Independent Online

Moving BBC3 online and turning off its television service will make it harder for up-and-coming comedians to translate success at the Edinburgh Fringe to their first gig on TV, according to the head of the festival’s biggest comedy award.

Nica Burns, director of the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards, fears that talented youngsters may now be left in a digital “backwater” unless the major broadcasters really push their online material to a mainstream audience.

Little Britain, starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams, made its television bow on BBC3 as did Gavin & Stacey before the programme went on to success on BBC1. The Mighty Boosh and Bad Education also started on BBC3.

“It became vital to the development of unknown comedy talent, giving them their first chance on TV,” Ms Burns said.

In June, the BBC Trust backed the corporation’s plans to run the channel set up to target 16 to 34-year-olds solely online. The BBC is about to go into the next round of consultation over the move.

On average 11.2 million people watch the channel a week. The BBC Trust estimates that of the 925,000 viewers who use no other BBC TV service, 80 per cent could be lost.

“Let’s see them fight to keep those viewers,” Ms Burns said. “Let’s see them really embrace online and use the might of the BBC to attract the next generation of viewers. Let’s see them promoting it.”

BBC3 has worked hard to develop comedy online, Ms Burns said, but she called for further advertising in national newspapers and promotion on BBC1 and BBC2. “This is what will make comedy work and give it a chance to pay off by giving the BBC a series that can go onto BBC2 and BBC1, which is the Holy Grail.”

Among the new talents on BBC3 iPlayer she referenced Dane Baptiste, whose Comedy Feeds’ show Sunny D has been hugely acclaimed. Trying to find it online, however, proved exasperating for her.

“I wouldn’t have known how to find Dane Baptiste’s sitcom pilot. It was extremely good and fresh. Why isn’t it being promoted? They are not treating it in the same way they are treating a pilot on a broadcast network,” she said.

A BBC spokesman said it was consulting on proposals for all new BBC3 shows being aired on BBC1 or BBC2. He said: “New comedy is at the heart of BBC3 which is why, as we reinvent online, nurturing the next Dane Baptiste or PJDN will be central to what we do. Online gives talent creative freedom but it also gives us freedom to reach new audiences where they are.”