Normal People (Courtesy of Hulu)
BBC Three, the U.K. public broadcaster’s youth-skewing brand and the home of shows like “Fleabag” and “Normal People,” is returning as a broadcast channel.
The BBC on Tuesday confirmed that the brand, which has existed as a digital offering since early 2016 when it was taken off air, will be back on TV screens in January 2022. The move, which was first mooted in May, is underlined by research reflecting audience demand for the brand as a broadcast channel.
BBC Three will be targeted at audiences aged 16-34. The new channel, which shares bandwidth with children’s channel CBBC, will broadcast from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. each day — the same hours the channel held before its closure in 2016. As a result, CBBC’s broadcast hours will revert to closing at 7 p.m., as was the case before 2016. What’s different, however, is that BBC Three will now have a pre-watershed content offer for the 13-plus age group.
Close to 70% of the expanded BBC Three’s program spend will go outside of London and across the U.K. The Beeb also hopes to foster new talent through the channel offering.
Over the next two years, the public broadcaster will double its spend on BBC Three commissions, with its budget rising from around £30-40 million ($36-49 million) to between £60-80 million ($73-98 million).
“Three has been a real hit machine for the BBC, delivering some of our biggest performing shows from ‘Killing Eve’ to ‘Fleabag’ and ‘Normal People.’ We believe in backing success and, having committed to double the investment on BBC Three commissions over the next two years, we want to showcase that content to a wider audience,” said the BBC. “Using both a broadcast channel and BBC iPlayer in tandem, will help to grow our offer and deliver more value to younger audiences.”
The BBC has said that young adults in the U.K. spend more media time per week (around 7.5 hours) with the BBC’s services than any other brand. However, “research identified a significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit but are currently light users of the BBC. We want to change that,” said the Beeb.
Charlotte Moore, chief content officer, said: “BBC Three is a BBC success story, backing creativity, new talent and brave ideas has resulted in hit after hit, from ‘Fleabag’ and ‘Man Like Mobeen,’ ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK’ and ‘Jesy Nelson’s Odd One Out,’ to ‘Normal People’ and ‘This Country.’ The BBC needs to back success and make sure its programs reach as many young people as possible wherever they live in the U.K. So regardless of the debates about the past, we want to give BBC Three its own broadcast channel again. It has exciting, ground breaking content that deserves the widest possible audience and using iPlayer alongside a broadcast channel will deliver the most value.”
The move back to being a broadcast channel has not been immediately welcomed. The U.K. parliament’s department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee is conducting an ongoing survey into the future of public service broadcasting in the country.
Committee chair Julian Knight said: ““The BBC’s decision to bring back BBC Three to our TVs is an acknowledgement by the broadcaster that it is failing to reach young audiences. I question whether putting the clock back five years is the right way to win over 18-35s.”
“The extra investment found to pay for this is also happening at the same time that those over 75 are being chased to pay up for their TV licences,” Knight added.
Variety's Manori Ravindran contributed to this post.