BBC Three will return as a broadcast channel next year, the BBC said, in an attempt to woo back younger audiences who have turned away from its output.
The corporation announced the return of the youth-oriented channel to linear programming five years after it was taken online-only. At the time the BBC Trust said that the move was justified because “independent evidence shows younger audiences are watching more online and watching less linear TV”.
But the BBC now says that it will return as a broadcast channel in January 2022, subject to Ofcom approval. It had already committed to doubling the spending on original BBC Three commissions over the next two years.
While on average young adults spend more time with the BBC than any other media brand, “our research identified a significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit but are currently light users of the BBC”, the corporation said in a statement. “We want to change that.”
The move will be seen as a sign of the strength of programming produced by BBC Three – and recognition that the previous decision may have been a mistake. Recent hits including Killing Eve, Fleabag and Normal People have all been broadcast on the corporation’s existing mainstream channels and been sold around the world.
The decision to take BBC Three off air was hugely controversial, prompting a Save BBC Three campaign that attracted 300,000 signatures and claims that the BBC was failing younger viewers. The corporation argued that it was a necessary move to make savings after government cuts and that most of its audience was online in any case. Much of the £30m a year in savings was put towards drama for BBC One.
“The BBC needs to back success and make sure its programmes reach as many young people as possible wherever they live in the UK,” chief content officer Charlotte Moore said. “So regardless of the debates about the past, we want to give BBC Three its own broadcast channel again. It has exciting, groundbreaking content that deserves the widest possible audience.”
The channel will aim for two-thirds of the expanded programming spend to be outside of London. And the BBC said that it would seek to serve diverse audiences including those from “minority ethnic backgrounds, lower socio-economic groups, often in the north of England, and often with less access to digital on-demand services”.
The move will be accommodated by reducing CBBC’s broadcast hours so that it closes at 7pm, as was the case before 2016, the BBC said. While the channel will be targeted at audiences from 16-34, the BBC said it intended “to expand the remit of BBC Three with a pre-watershed content offer suitable for 13+”.