BBC Three will return to TV screens next year

The RETURN of BBC Three: channel which launched hit shows like Fleabag, Gavin & Stacey and Normal People is to return to TV screens next year after its popularity during lockdown proved it still had an audience

  • The channel will be available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat in February
  • BBC took it off air in 2016 saying traditional viewing had been abandoned
  • That led to a protest outside Broadcasting House and 300,000 signed a petition
  • During the pandemic, BBC said lockdown viewing proved it still had an audience
  • It was to return to TV, subject to Ofcom’s approval, which was granted today

BBC Three’s return as a broadcast TV channel has been confirmed by Ofcom.

The broadcasting watchdog approved the move to take the online-only channel, currently available on the iPlayer, back to linear services.

The channel will relaunch in early February and will be available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat.

In 2016 the corporation took BBC Three off air because it said young viewers had abandoned traditional viewing, despite it being the home of hits such as Gavin and Stacey, Fleabag and Killing Eve.

That sparked a protest outside Broadcasting House and more than 300,000 people signed a petition to save the channel.

Then as the pandemic hit in March last year and BBC Three spawned another hit with Normal People, the corporation said there was still a ‘significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit’ and announced plans to bring it back as a TV channel, subject to Ofcom’s approval. 

Today’s decision by Ofcom to bring the channel back, which coincides with the publication of the regulator’s annual report on the BBC’s performance, said the relaunch would help the BBC reach younger viewers, particularly those from lower-income homes and those living outside London and the South East.

BBC Three, which launched hit shows including Fleabag (pictured), will relaunch in early February and will be available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat

However, as the pandemic hit in March last year and BBC Three spawned another hit with Normal People (pictured), the corporation said there was still a ‘significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit’ and announced plans to bring it back as a TV channel

It said that to ensure the channel is distinctive’, at least 75% of its broadcast hours must be original programmes commissioned by the BBC for UK viewers.

BBC Three controller Fiona Campbell said: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled that Ofcom have now confirmed that BBC Three will be returning to TV screens next year.

‘This is a big moment, with the new channel providing a destination for young audiences to discover more content on the BBC.

‘We will work hand in hand with iPlayer to provide a broad offering that is representative of the whole of the UK and we will continue to back new talent and bold ideas.

‘This approach will bring the audience a distinctive mix of programmes that are there to entertain, inspire and challenge thinking, at a pivotal and exciting time to be young in the UK.’

The BBC has also agreed a new terms of trade deal with the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact) trade association relating to TV production from independent producers.

The corporation previously announced it was aiming for at least two-thirds of its expanded programme spending to be outside London.

Pact’s director of business affairs Max Rumney said: ‘Our members are pleased to see the return of the linear channel and the opportunities this will bring for producers to showcase the brilliant creativity of the UK independent production sector.

‘It is a great example of Pact and the BBC working together to deliver a positive result for everyone.’

As a TV channel, BBC Three was best known for shows such as Gavin And Stacey, Being Human and the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood and won various accolades.

The BBC first announced it was planning to move the channel online in 2014 and reports said the corporation would save around £30million in doing so.

The decision to axe BBC Three sparked a protest outside Broadcasting House and more than 300,000 people signed a petition to save the channel

But after much opposition, via a protest and hundreds of thousands signing a petition to save the channel, the BBC said in March that the channel would be returning to television.

In a statement today, Ofcom said: ‘We carefully assessed the BBC’s plans, alongside evidence and feedback gathered during our consultation.

‘We concluded that the channel’s re-launch will help the BBC to increase its reach among younger underserved viewers – particularly those from lower-income homes, and audiences who live outside London and the South East.

‘To ensure the channel is distinctive, at least 75 per cent of hours broadcast each year must be original programmes, commissioned by the BBC for UK viewers. We are also requiring the channel to deliver first-run UK content across a mix of genres, as well as weekday news programmes.’ 

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