BBC Three: Relaunched live TV channel struggles to win viewers | BBC Three
When BBC Three was relaunched as a live TV channel earlier this year, the company hoped its counterintuitive punt on a youth-focused broadcast channel would help it reach new audiences. Instead, the channel’s shows are constantly beaten in the ratings by repeats of old history programs featuring deceased steeplejack Fred Dibnah on BBC Four.
Most BBC Three programs have so far failed to attract more than 100,000 live TV viewers, according to official viewership figures, while some shows are lucky to get a tenth . Even programs that perform relatively well – such as episodes of MasterChef Australia – are rarely the original distinctive in-house shows the channel exists to provide.
As a result, despite years of work to get the channel back on the air, BBC Three is now beaten in ratings by vintage movie channel Talking Pictures and right-wing news station GB News.
Sophia Vahdati, of analytics firm Digital-i, said BBC Three’s total TV audience had halved in its first two months on the air, despite an extensive advertising campaign to promote its return. The average daily time spent watching the channel fell from 57 seconds to just 17 seconds over the same period.
Vahdati said it was a tough market for any traditional broadcast channels aimed at teens and 20s: “Younger viewers were the first to stop watching traditional TV and switch to Netflix and Amazon.We expect this trend to continue with the younger generations.
BBC Three was initially taken off the air in 2016 as a cost-cutting measure, with the BBC arguing that its target audience preferred to watch content on iPlayer. The online-only channel has finally found its place as the virtual home for some of the BBC’s most acclaimed commissions such as Sally Rooney’s Fleabag and Normal People.
However, BBC bosses have decided that bringing BBC Three back as a traditional linear TV channel could help them reach a poorer and more diverse audience – which is increasingly moving away from the BBC.
A BBC spokesperson said the viewing figures did not fully reflect the popularity of the shows, with many people still choosing to watch them on iPlayer. “Audiences appreciate the ability to choose when and where they watch and the channel provides additional visibility and an alternative route to find BBC Three programmes,” they said.
There have been some ratings successes, with new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race and African Cup of Nations football matches attracting healthy audiences.
According to Enders Analysis, a media consultancy, the total youth audience for all UK TV channels has plummeted by 70% over the past decade. The average teenager’s live TV consumption fell from almost three hours a day to just 50 minutes during this period.
The trend has serious implications for other youth-focused broadcasters, such as Channel 4. The short-lived ratings boom caused by pandemic-related lockdowns has already reversed, with channels reliant on more in addition to older audiences, live sports and soap operas.
The relaunch of BBC Three – and its subsequent struggle to attract viewers – came at a delicate time for BBC management. Bosses are figuring out which broadcast services to close or cut in order to meet the latest government-mandated spending cuts. A key decision will be whether to cut some traditional BBC outlets that remain popular with older viewers in order to reallocate their budget to appeal to younger audiences.