Ofcom is inviting views on plans by the BBC to return BBC Three to a linear channel.
The BBC is planning to relaunch the youth-skewing channel in January 2022, a move that Ofcom says is a ‘material change’ to its UK public services.
Ofcom is required to ensure that any change the BBC wishes to make to its publicly funded TV, radio and online services does not give it an unfair advantage over rival broadcasters.
The invitation follows the publication of findings to the BBC’s own Public Interest Test. Channel 4, the only broadcaster to respond, said the move of BBC Three to online had been a positive step it testing and shaping viewer behaviour alongside a broader shift away from linear to on demand viewing. “It is not clear how the relaunch of BBC Three as a linear channel will help the BBC address the market dynamic of “the acceleration of changes in viewing trends” it uses as a justification for the launch – it used the same justification for closing BBC Three in 2015.
Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at London Business School, supported the move because public value would be increased by more people watching for more hours. But he argued the BBC should tread carefully in its support for the 16-34 age bracket because of the often weak segmentation of TV channel audiences. Professor Barwise points out that BBC Three’s online hits including Normal People and Fleabag were watched and enjoyed by large numbers outside of the 16-34s.
Ofcom now wants to hear from interested or affected parties to inform its view.
The stage will run for six weeks.