BBC Three to return as a broadcast channel in January 2022 | Programming | News | Rapid TV News
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In what amounts to a tremendous volte face by the UK public broadcaster, the BBC has confirmed the return of BBC Three to linear TV grids after a five year absence and being digital-only in that time.
BBC Three 2 March 2021
BBC Three stopped broadcasting on the UK’s broadcast network as of February 2016 following a review by the BBC Trust in November 2015 which called for the corporation’s non-core channels – including BBC Three as well as CBBC and BBC One+1 – to go digital-only. The Trust said at the time that its plans would enable the BBC to deliver more distinctive content online, while bearing down on costs.

Yet while undoubtedly cutting costs - and being the original home for smash hit TV series Gavin And Stacey, Little Britain and Torchwood as linear channels and then subsequently Fleabag, Normal People and Killing Eve as digital-only offers that particularly appealed to younger audiences - the move was revealed by a study from Enders Analysis as having led to audiences disappearing in masses. Despite Normal People driving the digital channel to its best week ever for programme requests on iPlayer in May 2020, more than doubling the previous record, Enders said that annual viewing minutes of BBC Three programming were down by more than 70% compared with its last year of linear TV broadcasting, and weekly reach amongst its target demographic of 16-34s had fallen by around 70%. This represented a loss far greater than those of other TV channels.

However, as part of what it says is its drive to deliver more value to audiences, the BBC said that it now needs to back success and make sure its programmes reach as many young people as possible, wherever they live in the UK. And that regardless of the debates about the past, it wanted to give BBC Three its own broadcast channel again. The corporation noted that in its Annual Plan 2020/21, published in 2020,  research  confirmed there remained an available audience on broadcast television for BBC Three. It added that having committed to double the investment on BBC Three commissions over the next two years, it wanted to showcase that content to a wider audience.

The BBC proposes to launch Three on linear in January 2022 and adapt CBBC’s operating hours to make the most value out of the increased content that it will commission going forward. The channel will be targeted at audiences aged 16-34. The new linear channel will broadcast from 7pm to 4am each day, the same as the hours of the channel when it closed in 2016. As a result CBBC’s broadcast hours will revert to closing at 7pm - as was the case before 2016. The BBC also intends to expand the remit of BBC Three with a pre-watershed content offer suitable for those over 13+. The corporation stressed that it would not take any further traditional TV channel capacity for services, but reallocate distribution capacity from existing services within the current space.

The BBC added that using both a broadcast channel and BBC iPlayer in tandem, will help to grow its offer and deliver more value to younger audiences. It said its research also identified a significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit but are currently light users of the BBC. In this light, the BBC said that bringing Three back to linear would provide it with a new shop window to reach a younger audience currently underserved, bringing them the best BBC young programming and talent across all genres.

“BBC Three is a BBC success story, backing creativity, new talent and brave ideas has resulted in hit after hit, from Fleabag and Man Like Mobeen, Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK and Jesy Nelson’s Odd One Out, to Normal People and This Country,” said chief content officer Charlotte Moore. "The BBC needs to back success and make sure its programmes reach as many young people as possible wherever they live in the UK. So regardless of the debates about the past, we want to give BBC Three its own broadcast channel again. It has exciting, ground-breaking content that deserves the widest possible audience and using BBC iPlayer alongside a broadcast channel will deliver the most value.”