Normal People delivers best week ever for BBC Three

Sally Rooney novel adaptation has received 16.2m iPlayer requests since 26 April launch

Normal People has delivered the best week ever for BBC Three as the youth drama proves a hit with people stuck at home during the lockdown.

The television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s award-winning novel has been requested 16.2m times on BBC iPlayer since the series launched on 26 April. A quarter of those who have logged on to watch it have already viewed all 12 episodes.

“A significant proportion of people watched all the episodes in the first 24 hours,” said Fiona Campbell, the controller of BBC Three, speaking in a virtual interview for the Edinburgh Television Festival. “The people who did that were all very young. People love bingeing.”

Normal People has beaten the previous opening-week record for BBC Three held by the first series of Killing Eve, which drew 8m requests at its launch in 2018.

Campbell said viewers had been lucky as the show was only just completed before the spread of the coronavirus halted TV and film production across the UK.

“The directors just managed to get everything through post-production before the lockdown came,” she said. “For us, the Normal People figures show how well our content is still resonating. It is relevant to what people are going through at the moment.”

The popularity of the show fuelled the best week for BBC Three since the channel was moved online-only four years ago, double the figures of its previous record. The show accounted for more than 70% of the total 21.8m requests for all BBC Three shows in the first week since its launch.

Normal People has proved to be a breakout hit, appealing to those beyond BBC Three’s target demographic of 16- to 34-year-olds, who accounted for 5 million of the total 16.2m requests to view the show.

Campbell said she believes the show would have been must-watch TV even if people were not stuck at home looking for shows to watch.

“This probably would have happened irrespective,” she said. “The book had such a big fan base and it fits very much with BBC Three’s DNA. When any drama gets mega it becomes a phenomenon, everyone wants a bit of the action. People will want to watch the show even if they are in their 40s. When you have a hit you will pull in more people.”

Campbell said BBC Three’s budget would “not be immune” from the cuts that the corporation is seeking to make, and the channel needed to keep its game up in the face of competition for the youth market from a variety of rivals.

“Disney+ has just launched and we are competing with other platforms such as YouTube,” she said. “Our shows fill an [important] gap on the BBC iPlayer.”

In March, it emerged that the corporation had held discussions about whether BBC Three should once again have a presence on traditional TV. BBC Three was taken off air in March 2016.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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