1 February 2022

BBC Three returns as a TV channel today

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

The channel returns with flagship show RuPaul’s Drag Race UK versus the World, alongside coverage of the semi-finals of football’s Africa Cup of Nations and highlights from the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The BBC has also confirmed that it has commissioned a number of new comedy, drama and reality shows that will be shown on the channel in the coming months.

In making our decision to approve BBC Three’s return as a TV channel, we looked at its ability to reach underserved viewers and listeners, including younger people who typically spend less time with the BBC’s programmes.

We carefully assessed the BBC’s plans, alongside evidence and feedback gathered during a consultation we carried out. 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% 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

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. Last year we 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. 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. 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.

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