The linear relaunch of BBC Three, the broadcaster’s TV channel dedicated to younger viewers, has been branded a flop and, following its £80million relaunch, a complete waste of money.
Critics have been quick to note the tiny audiences for shows including The Fast and Farmer-ish, Mood and Obsessed with Killing Eve, none of which have managed to pass the 50,000 mark. RuPaul’s Drag Race is the only reliable big hitter currently on the channel, a disappointing result for the channel following its £80million relaunch in February.
Conservative MP Nigel Mills said: “This is typical BBC — throwing public money around on projects with little planning or worry about the consequences. It needs to urgently rethink this. It’s a complete waste of money.”
This follows the comment of fellow politician John Redwood who asked at the time of the re-launch: “The BBC say they are short of money. So why are they re opening BBC 3?”
And Julian Knight, the influential chair of the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, who called it “putting the clock back five years”.
BBC Three has had a rollercoaster history of highs and lows since it was launched in 2003, charged with reflecting and stimulating the diversity of the UK and particularly reaching audiences aged 16-34.
When the channel moved online in February 2016, many producers protested, saying it would be far harder for younger, newer acts to find TV audiences, but the BBC Trust defended the move, citing independent evidence that demonstrated younger audiences were watching more content online and less linear TV. Reports at the time said the BBC would be saving around £30million through this move to digital, money that could be put back into stronger content on other channels.
Following its move to digital, BBC Three enjoyed some high-profile triumphs with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mega hit Fleabag debuting on the channel as well as Killing Eve, and was boosted during the first lockdown of 2020 with huge audiences tuning in for the small screen adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.
Then the channel was on the move again, with the BBC announcing in March 2021 that it would be bringing BBC Three back on air on a doubled budget – with the hope of attracting bigger youthful audiences away from the streamers, especially those in lower socio-economic groups, and living in parts of the UK with less access to streaming services.
This U-turn was supported by the regulator Ofcom, but described as “a step backwards” by critics including Julian Knight MP, who questioned the wisdom of spending money on trying to attract young viewers. A recent YouGov poll found just one in 20 people aged 18-30 watch any BBC television channels live every day.
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.”
A BBC spokesman said that quoting the selective low figures on recent shows was “misleading when millions have tuned in to watch shows on the broadcast channel since its launch”, and cited 28-day consolidated data showing more than 60 episodes of BBC Three content drawing more than 100,000 viewers.
The spokesman added:
“BBC Three programmes have been streamed 57 million times on iPlayer and audiences value the option to choose when and where they watch. We don’t judge a show on a single overnight rating as it doesn’t reflect real programme viewing as there is often more than one opportunity to watch on both broadcast and online.”
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