BBC Three set to return as TV channel after Ofcom gives green light

Service was taken off air in 2016, but corporation says some younger viewers still want linear TV

BBC Three is set for a triumphant return as a TV channel after media regulator Ofcom gave it the provisional greenlight to return to broadcast television, six years after the corporation took it off air because its young viewers had abandoned traditional viewing.

The corporation took BBC Three off air in 2016, despite it being the home of hits from Fleabag to Killing Eve, deciding that an online-only version would make it easier to attract young audiences.

However, as the pandemic hit last year, and BBC Three spawned yet another hit with lockdown obsession Normal People, the corporation made a U-turn after arguing that there is still a “significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit”.

The BBC moved to more than double BBC Three’s annual budget to more than £70m, to give it enough commissioning firepower to maintain a linear TV schedule, as success stories such as ITV2’s Love Island proved there is a market of millions of younger viewers for traditional TV if the programming appeals.

The broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, has been investigating the impact on commercial rivals of a return of the TV channel, as rivals and industry bodies raised concerns that it will take viewers away from commercial youth-focused broadcasters such as Channel 4.

“Our job is to ensure that any change the BBC wishes to make to its publicly funded TV, radio and online services does not give it an unfair advantage over rival broadcasters,” said Ofcom. “Having conducted a detailed analysis of the BBC’s proposal, we have provisionally concluded that the public value of BBC Three returning as a broadcast channel justifies the limited adverse market impact.”

Ofcom also said that the return of BBC Three as a TV channel would benefit certain demographics and regions that are less likely to view using streaming services such as the BBC iPlayer to watch programming.

“We have provisionally found that the channel would increase the availability and reach of BBC Three to people who currently don’t access it,” said Ofcom. “Particularly viewers from lower income households and those living outside London and the south-east.”

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

Sky had complained that as a public service channel BBC Three would have a legal right to appear in the top 24 channels on electronic programme guides, which would bump another channel further down, ensuring high visibility among viewers scanning for shows and channels to watch on TV. Ofcom confirmed that, subject to consultation, BBC Three will get a prime slot.

“It is a fantastic vote of confidence in our drive to deliver more value and grow our offer for younger audiences across the UK,” said a spokesperson for the BBC. “We’ve committed to increase our investment in the channel’s programmes, which will allow us to deliver even more of our award winning content and expand our creative partnerships across the UK nations and regions.”

Ofcom has opened a public consultation on its provisional decision to allow BBC Three to return to TV next year, as well its proposed change to the electronic programme guide, and will publish its final decision by the end of the year.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Motherland to return in diverse BBC comedy lineup
Subject matter ranges from a child with learning disabilities to a group of Muslim girls

Tara Conlan

19, Jun, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Spitting Image to return after 24 years via BritBox
Show will be first original commission for streaming service created by ITV and BBC

Mark Sweney

04, Mar, 2020 @9:27 AM

Article image
BBC Three could return as broadcast channel under proposals
BBC’s annual plan to more than double channel’s budget over next two years

Mark Sweney Media business correspondent

19, May, 2020 @9:03 PM

Article image
Bake Off's triumphant finale leaves Channel 4 with tricky task
Channel 4 will be buoyed by record viewing figures but must now begin job of revamping show without most of its stars

Mark Sweney

27, Oct, 2016 @3:59 PM

Article image
London 2012 Olympics: BBC to extend BBC3's hours and launch digital station
BBC3 to broadcast all day and 5 Live Olympics Extra to go on air for 20 days. By Mark Sweney

Mark Sweney

15, Aug, 2011 @1:13 PM

Article image
BBC to argue for licence fee link to inflation
Internal report into corporation's funding recommends move to inflationary rise in place of price freeze

Jason Deans

09, Mar, 2014 @5:55 PM

Article image
James Corden calls for continued funds for young talent once BBC3 goes online
Comedian and talk show host whose break came on channel’s Gavin and Stacey says its going online will not affect ratings if there is a strong budget

Jasper Jackson

29, Dec, 2015 @12:01 AM

Article image
'It is like real life': Cotswolds residents' verdict on This Country
As the BBC series returns, Kerry and Kurtan’s real-life neighbours open up on show’s portrayal of rural problems

Steven Morris

14, Feb, 2020 @12:24 PM

Article image
The Night Manager named Radio Times show of 2016
BBC1 spy drama starring Tom Hiddleston tops list of 30 best programmes of the year

Jasper Jackson

27, Dec, 2016 @12:01 AM

Article image
Bafta TV prize eludes Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch
Marvellous, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies and Ant and Dec pick up two prizes at television awards ceremony in London

John Plunkett and Hannah Ellis-Petersen

10, May, 2015 @9:33 PM