The BBC will turn back the clock, with BBC Three relaunching in its former 7pm-4am slot, timesharing with CBBC, which will revert back to closing at 7pm. Channel numbers are yet to be determined.
BBC Three will return as a linear channel almost six years after it was abolished as the BBC aims to reverse what some critics see as a costly mistake. Ofcom will need to give its approval before the linear relaunch happens.
Whilst operating as an online service, the channel has produced numerous hits including Fleabag, Man Like Mobeen, Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Jesy Nelson’s Odd One Out, Normal People and This Country. For the past two years, BBC Three programmes have been given a late night linear outlet on BBC One. Normal People was given a 9pm primetime slot on BBC One.
The relaunched BBC Three channel has been given the remit to serve diverse, underserved audiences across the UK. These include minority ethnic backgrounds and lower socio-economic groups. Of interest to the BBC are audiences in the north of England, and those with less access to digital on-demand services.
Explaining the move, the BBC said that its research identified a significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit but are currently light users of the BBC. Ofcom criticised the BBC for for its failure to reach younger audiences following BBC Three’s online move.
With the return of the linear service, the channel will be given an additional remit to reach young teenagers (13+). This is in addition to its original 16-34 year old target audience. The move will allow the channel to exploit its pre-watershed (7pm-9pm) slot from the new year. Previously, viewers aged 13-16 have not been specifically targeted by an BBC channel. CBBC targets 6-12 year olds, having reduced its target audience to exclude most secondary school age groups 15 years ago. CBBC will return to its original pre-April 2016 broadcast hours, closing at just before 7pm.
However, BBC Three won’t be able to automatically return to its old channel numbers on Freeview, Freesat, Virgin Media and Sky. For example, BBC Three’s channel number on Virgin Media was taken over by E4. Local TV services have taken channel 7 on Freeview in parts of England and Northern Ireland. Ofcom EPG Prominence rules will mean platform operators will need to make room for the new service.
And there remains the question over BBC Scotland HD, which currently uses CBBC HD’s Freeview downtime north of the border.
A public consultation is set to be launched this Friday, as part of a Public Interest Test. This may begin to reveal some of the BBC’s proposals regarding these issues. Ofcom will give its verdict on the proposals later in the year.
BBC Three first launched in 2003. Regulatory hurdles originally delayed its launch, going on-air nearly a year after BBC Four. Plans to close BBC Three resulted in a large scale campaign to save the channel. As a result of its linear closure, many of its best-loved shows moved elsewhere. ITV secured the rights for Family Guy, while Don’t Tell the Bride ultimately landed on E4. Pay channel W secured BBC Three’s 10pm EastEnders repeat slot, however W subsequently axed the slot.