25 November 2021

BBC Three can return as TV channel

  • Ofcom green-lights launch of channel for younger viewers
  • Three-quarters of content must be original UK shows
  • Mid-charter stock-take of BBC’s performance finds it is generally serving people well, but BBC should ‘dare to be different’ in connecting with wider audiences

BBC Three is set to return to TV screens for the first time in six years, after Ofcom today approved its relaunch as a broadcast television channel.

The decision coincides with Ofcom’s fourth annual report on the BBC’s performance, which assesses, among other things, its progress in reaching underserved viewers and listeners. This includes younger people who typically spend less time with the BBC’s programmes.

The BBC submitted proposals to Ofcom to reinstate BBC Three as a traditional TV channel – offering news, current affairs, factual, drama, entertainment and comedy, targeting viewers aged 16-34 who don’t typically watch TV online.

We carefully assessed the BBC’s plans, alongside evidence and feedback gathered during our consultation.[1] 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.[2]

To ensure the channel is distinctive, at least 75% 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.[3]

Are you being served?

The re-launch of BBC Three is one part of how the BBC intends to deliver for all audiences, which is critical for its future sustainability. Today, we have published a report looking back over the last four years, to assess how well the BBC has served UK audiences so far during the Charter period.


of users rated BBC News highly for providing Covid-19 news

We found that the BBC has broadly delivered against its remit.[4] It remains popular with viewers and listeners, and last year saw its reach stabilise after a period of decline. Almost nine in 10 adults (87%) consume BBC content each week. It also adapted quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic, changing its production and scheduling to keep on informing, educating and entertaining the public.

But our review also identifies several long-standing themes that the BBC must address. These include:

Improving audience perceptions of BBC impartiality

Last year, more people used BBC news – on TV and online – across all age groups, including young people. It remains the most popular source of news in the UK.[5] But while audiences score BBC TV news highly for accuracy (71%) and trust (68%), audiences consistently rate it less favourably for impartiality, with 55% giving it a high score.

We welcome the BBC’s action plan to improve audience perceptions of its impartiality. To retain audience trust, we expect it to rigorously assess and transparently report on its progress against this plan. In spring 2022, Ofcom will publish updated research on how audience perceptions of BBC impartiality are influenced.

Remaining relevant to its whole UK audience

Around three in five adults (58%) have a favourable impression of the BBC. But disabled audiences (53%), people in Scotland (49%) and those from less-well-off backgrounds (53%) are less satisfied.

On average, 58% of adults in the UK have a positive impression of the BBC. AB households and audiences in London are more likely to view the BBC favourably than DE households and audiences in Scotland.

Younger people aged 16-34 spend much less time with the BBC each day – just over an hour compared with 2 hours 23 minutes for the average adult. More children aged 11-16 use Netflix (77%) than the BBC’s TV, radio and online services combined (74%).

The BBC is making changes to better connect with less-satisfied and younger audiences through a number of commissioning, funding and talent initiatives. It is critical for its long-term success that it puts these into action and ensures its workforce is more representative of people from different backgrounds.

Daring to be different

Our research found that fewer than half of UK adults rate the BBC positively on providing content that ‘dares to be different’.

The BBC’s spending on first-run, original TV content has been in long-term decline – from £1.6bn in 2010 to £1.01bn in 2020 – a decline exacerbated by the pandemic (-16% year on year). Spending on first-run programmes in at-risk genres like comedy and music has declined faster compared to spending on all other genres.[6]

But the BBC’s support is still crucial to the UK’s creative sector. Forty-four per cent of total spending by UK public service broadcasters on commissions from external production companies comes from the BBC.

As the BBC focuses on high-impact content in the face of budgetary pressures and increasing competition for audiences, it must maintain its commitment to original UK content, including in at-risk genres. We would be concerned if acquisitions were to play too large a role in the BBC’s overall content mix.

The BBC remains highly valued by the public and made a clear, positive contribution during the pandemic. But the last year has also seen its reputation hit by historical failings, with some viewers and listeners doubting its impartiality, and others feeling excluded.

The BBC must dare to be different, extending its appeal to viewers and listeners of all backgrounds, classes, cultures, ages or locations. That includes producing bold UK content, which is why we’re setting new rules around the relaunch of BBC Three.

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom's Group Director, Broadcasting and Online Content

What’s next for BBC regulation?

Today’s report feeds into Ofcom’s wider review of BBC regulation as we approach the mid-point of the BBC’s Charter. We are considering whether regulation remains appropriate in holding the BBC to account for viewers and listeners.

Taking account of responses to our consultation published earlier this year, we will make recommendations to Government in spring 2022 on the future for BBC regulation. At the same time, we will consult on proposals to update the BBC’s Operating Licence for the digital age, with a new licence to be in place by April 2023.

Notes to editors

  1. Ofcom’s job, as required by the Charter and Agreement, is to ensure that any change the BBC wishes to make to its publicly funded TV, radio and online services does not give it an unfair advantage over rival broadcasters. To do this, we need to judge whether the public value of a proposed change justifies any adverse effects on fair and effective competition.
  2. We found that the channel’s potential value to viewers ultimately outweighs the limited impact we identified on rival broadcasters.
  3. Additionally, the BBC must report publicly, in detail, how BBC Three will deliver value for audiences, and monitor how it performs on an ongoing basis. We have also today made changes to our Code of Practice on Electronic Programme Guides, to ensure BBC Three appears within the first 24 slots of on-screen television guides.
  4. The BBC’s mission is to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.
  5. Ofcom 2021 News Consumption Survey online sample only
  6. Ofcom analysis of BBC data. First-run originated spend data is expressed in real terms using 2020 prices, and excludes nations’ and regions’ programming. ‘At-risk’ genres include arts, children’s, comedy, music, religion & ethics, and specialist factual.
  7. Having carried out an assessment of the market position and impact of BBC Sounds, we have also today published our decision which concludes that, at present, there are no reasonable grounds to believe BBC Sounds is currently having a significant adverse impact on fair and effective competition.

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