Speculation mounts over BBC Three future

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Once again, reports are circulating that the BBC has been considering options for the future of BBC Three.

At the end of last year, following stinging criticism from Ofcom and internal data supporting evidence that the BBC was failing to reach younger audiences, it had been reported that BBC managers had discussed reinstating BBC Three as a linear channel.

Now, the Daily Mail has reported BBC managers have been looking at options for BBC Three's future as a way to attract a wider range of viewers.

All eyes will be on the corporation's next annual report, which could provide insight as to what has been decided.

The BBC lost 20% of younger viewers within six months of turning off the BBC Three linear channel in 2016.

The BBC had actually promised to screen BBC Three programmes in a number of linear TV timeslots on BBC One and BBC Two after its switch online. But this soon fizzled out, and in early 2019, the BBC announced grand plans to clear weeknight schedules on BBC One for BBC Three programmes after the 10pm news as part of a major push for the brand. The graveyard slot attracted few younger viewers and caused the usual older viewers to switch-off, leading to an overall drop in viewers.

While some BBC Three programmes do get shown on BBC One and Two at a later date, there is a growing amount of content commissioned for BBC Three that has never been shown on traditional linear channels.

In addition to regular programming, BBC Three Online launched with a 'daily drop' service, with news and factual content mixed with short clips. The bespoke news content puts the service at odds with plans for the rest of the BBC, which has seen moves to cut specialist news outlets, from Newsround to Victoria Derbyshire.

Technically, the channel's spare bandwidth is still unused: it previously shared with CBBC, which now closes at 9pm instead of 7pm, but has no new timeshare partner; therefore it could relatively easily be reinstated in its old slot, albeit with no right to its old channel number.

There are risks in attempting to resurrect BBC Three: viewers new to the target 16-34 age group are among those most likely to be viewing online and not via traditional TV platforms, while many nostalgic viewers eager to see the channel return, may well be not in the target age group anymore, meaning there's no guarantee the channel will be a success in reaching relevant audiences, although an online live stream of the channel might be more of an attraction for the target audience, mirroring similar growths for channels like ITV2, where live streaming has helped sign-ups for the ITV Hub.

And with the BBC looking at saving cash, there's also no guarantee the corporation can afford to run any relaunched channel with the same level of budget it once enjoyed.