16/12/2021 - NEIL ANDERSON
BBC Three returns to linear TV, but will young audiences follow?

BBC Three is set to return to UK TV screens in February 2022, six years after moving online only. The youth-skewed channel targeting 16-34 year olds was moved to the iPlayer platform in 2016 in efforts to adapt to young people’s viewing habits. As part of a wider cost-saving strategy, the controversial move was justified by the suggestion that younger viewers had abandoned traditional viewing in favour of consuming content online. The channel has since been responsible for major hits including Fleabag, Normal People and Killing Eve, prompting calls for its resurrection. Moreover, the broadcaster has now identified a significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit, including lower socio-economic groups that might not have access to subscription streaming platforms.

Ampere’s consumer data finds that youth viewing of linear channels has been in sharp decline in the UK since BBC Three’s move online, with the average reported time spent viewing linear channels halving since 2017 among 18-34 year old respondents. This is in stark contrast to the growth seen in reported viewing of content on subscription VoD platforms. 

Yet despite this, consumer data from the last two years finds that an average of 37% of 18-34 year olds still reported viewing broadcast TV channels daily. Although this group is smaller than it was six years ago, it is still sizeable, and the presence of a linear channel as a destination for viewers to discover more from the BBC and its public service output could benefit the broadcaster if it focuses on the cross promotion of content across linear and digital platforms. Furthermore, the reported doubling in its budget could see BBC Three build on recent success in its original commissions with increased content spend on high quality Drama, Documentary and Comedy.

The reintroduction of the channel comes amid pressure for the BBC to display proof of its universal appeal in order to justify its licence fee funding model. Ampere's latest wave of consumer data showed that 14% of 18-34 year olds reported never watching broadcast TV channels. While BBC Three may help win back younger audiences, the BBC faces a larger challenge to re-engage the growing number of younger viewers that no longer watch TV.


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