BBC Three will go back on air this spring with a dedicated slot on BBC One.
BBC Three became the UK’s first major online TV channel three years ago, when it made the jump from linear broadcast to streaming.
The move was a bold one, taking the corporation into uncharted waters, but it has paid off, retaining the channel’s distinctive voice and focus on content for 16-34 year olds, while also building audiences in new places.
At launch, BBC Three made up 4 per cent of BBC iPlayer requests, but within its first six months, expanded that reach to over 10 per cent from fewer programmes. In 2018, requests for BBC Three programming on iPlayer rose 58% compared to the same period last year, generating an average of 4.2m requests per week – with 47% of viewers on average under the age of 35. BBC Three’s YouTube channel has also achieved exponential growth with UK views growing over 80% year on year (Oct-Dec 2017 vs Oct-Dec 2018) and over 1.2m subscribers globally, over 100% growth year-on-year. BBC Three now racks up 1.5 million YouTube views per week, and has a weekly Facebook reach of over 10 million.
It has enjoyed critical acclaim too, winning BAFTA and RTS awards for Fleabag, Murdered for Being Different, This Country and People Just Do Nothing, among others, with BBC Three also named RTS Channel of the Year in 2017.
The idea of taking BBC Three back on air full-time, then, would seem like a backwards step. Indeed, Vice Media, which made a recent switch from online-only to also launching its own commercial linear channel, VICELAND, recently announced plans to lay off 250 people, as part of wider financial problems.
But BBC Three has quietly remained on air in some form on BBC One, with all long-form series required to have a late-night broadcast after their initial online release.
“When our shows are on BBC One and Two they’re attracting more young people than before,” Damian Kavanagh, the former Controller of BBC Three, said in 2017.
Now, the Beeb is doubling down on that boost to help BBC Three grow more, with a more formal broadcasting slot introduced solely to BBC Three programmes. From Monday 4th March, the national and local news and weather on BBC One will be shortened from 45 minutes to 35 minutes, so that, from 10.35pm on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, select BBC Three programmes can be showcased in a new, regular destination after the News at Ten. The Monday-Wednesday BBC Three strip on BBC One will be complemented by Question Time with Fiona Bruce on Thursdays, The Graham Norton show on Fridays and Match of the Day on Saturday and Sunday.
“We believe this will be better for audiences as those that want more in-depth news and analysis can move over to Newsnight on BBC Two and it will allow for a slightly earlier and more consistent start time for viewers to watch the programmes that follow,” explains the BBC, which notes that longer news and weather will still be an option for moments of national or local significance.
Programmes will still be available on BBC Three on BBC iPlayer, where audiences can find BBC Three’s full offering of long-form and short-form programmes. Indeed, in addition to the regular zone on BBC One, the BBC iPlayer home screen will be given a refresh to help people find new BBC Three titles more easily.
The first wave of titles in the BBC Three slot on BBC One will be the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award winning Fleabag, followed by dating series Eating With My Ex and Stacey Dooley-fronted make-up competition Glow-Up, which will play across Monday to Wednesday respectively. More BBC Three titles to be shown in the future on BBC One include a mix of factual entertainment, documentary, current affairs and comedy titles, including Jerk, Britain’s Youngest Football Boss, and The Rap Game.
That doesn’t mean, however, that BBC Three titles will be shackled to their BBC One broadcast, with titles still released in the same manner online.
“Just like now it’ll depend on the programme,” a BBC spokesperson confirmed to us. “Some are released on a weekly basis and others are dropped all at once on iPlayer. We take a view on each programme individually.”
While Fleabag will definitely air on BBC One in March, therefore, that doesn’t mean it won’t arrive on BBC iPlayer before then, with a release date still mooted for February.
Keep up to speed with our guide to what’s coming soon to BBC Three – or see what’s worth watching with our BBC Three reviews.