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Ofcom approves BBC Three’s return to linear TV

BBC Three will return to linear TV in early February 2022, and will be available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat

Ofcom has given the greenlight to the return of BBC Three as a linear channel after approving the BBC’s plans.

The broadcaster first announced plans reinstate BBC Three as a traditional TV channel in March of this year, stating it will offer news, current affairs, factual, drama, entertainment and comedy, targeting viewers aged 16-34 who don’t typically watch TV online.

BBC Three will return to linear TV in early February 2022, and will be available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat.

In July, Ofcom launched a full assessment of the channel’s proposed return. Announcing its approval, the organisation said it had carefully assessed the BBC’s plans, alongside evidence and feedback gathered during the consultation, concluding 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”.

It added that the channel’s potential value to viewers ultimately outweighs the limited impact Ofcom identified on rival broadcasters.

However, Ofcom stated that to ensure the channel is distinctive, at least 75 per cent of hours broadcast each year must be original programmes, commissioned by the BBC for UK viewers. The channel is also required to deliver first-run UK content across a mix of genres, as well as weekday news programmes.

Ofcom has also updated its Code of Practice on electronic programme guides (EPGs), to ensure BBC Three appears within the first 24 slots of on-screen television guides.

Originally launched as a linear channel in February 2003, the BBC decided to move the channel to online only in February 2016.

Speaking about Ofcom’s approval, Fiona Campbell, controller BBC Three said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Ofcom have now confirmed that BBC Three will be returning to TV screens next year. This is a big moment, with the new channel providing a destination for young audiences to discover more content on the BBC.

“We will work hand in hand with iPlayer to provide a broad offering that is representative of the whole of the UK and we will continue to back new talent and bold ideas. This approach will bring the audience a distinctive mix of programmes that are there to entertain, inspire and challenge thinking, at a pivotal and exciting time to be young in the UK.”

Last year, a report by City University of London suggested BBC Three’s move to an online-only channel had led to a 60-70 per cent loss of audience.