BBC Three could return to linear TV
Staff Reporter | On 21, May 2020
BBC Three could come back to TV screens as a linear channel.
The channel, which first launched back in 2003, went online-only 2016, as part of wider budget cuts across the organisation. Since then, it has released content straight to BBC iPlayer, as well as to Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms.
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 per cent compared to the same period last year, generating an average of 4.2m requests per week – with 47 per cent 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 per cent year on year (Oct-Dec 2017 vs Oct-Dec 2018) and over 1.2m subscribers globally, over 100 per cent growth year-on-year. As of 2019, BBC Three racks up 1.5 million YouTube views per week, and has a weekly Facebook reach of over 10 million.
BBC Three has quietly remained on air in some form on BBC One, with all long-form series required to have a TV broadcast after their initial online release. Indeed, when its shows are on BBC One and Two they have typically enjoyed a spike in audiences both on TV and on-demand. Last year, that became a more formal arrangement, with BBC One showcasing BBC Three programmes in a dedicated late night slot on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Now, the Beeb has said that it’s looking at taking BBC Three back to linear TV properly.
The news comes as part of the BBC’s Annual Plan published this week. The plan comes as the Beeb has demonstrated its value to the public through a push to combine education services for children, parents and teachers and added box sets on BBC iPlayer for longer.
New figures show that as many as 94 per cent of the UK adult population – and 86 per cent of younger people – have turned to the BBC in recent weeks, with the vast majority rating the BBC’s response highly and official figures showing it remains the most trusted source of news.
As a result, BBC iPlayer has had a succession of record-breaking days, with news programmes, Killing Eve, The Nest and Normal People driving huge numbers of requests.
“We have improved our performance with young adults in this period – we are reaching as many as eight out of ten young people,” says the Beeb. “Far from ‘turning their backs on the BBC’, as some have suggested, they have been embracing our news and shows such as Normal People.”
BBC Three has also delivered some of the BBC’s biggest performing programmes, with Normal People now having more than 38m requests to watch it on BBC iPlayer.
“We will be using our commissioning budgets to invest in creativity across the whole UK and to increase the diversity of our output, led by our plans for BBC Three,” says the report. “We will step up our commitment to better serve young audiences who currently get less value from the BBC.”
Indeed, it aims to double the amount it spends on BBC Three commissions over the next two years. This money would have to be found from elsewhere in BBC content budgets.
While the BBC says BBC Three has been “a hit machine”, though, it is considering reversing its online move to build on that streaming success.
“BBC Three has been a hit machine. Such is its performance, we will consider the merit of restoring it as a linear channel,” says the Beeb. “While young people would continue to predominately watch BBC Three content online, we believe that with the depth of content we now have available, there are still more people we could reach through a linear channel.”