BBC Three was a British television channel operated by the BBC. Launched on 9 February 2003 as a replacement for BBC Choice, the service's remit was to provide "innovative" programming to a target audience of viewers between 16 and 34 years old, leveraging technology as well as new talent.
Unlike its commercial rivals, 90% of BBC Three's output originated from the United Kingdom. 70% was original, covering all genres, including animation, comedy, current affairs, and drama. BBC Three had a unique 60 Seconds format for its news bulletins, adopted so that operation of the channel could be completely automated, without the complication of dealing with variable-length live news broadcasts. The former controller of the station, Zai Bennett, left to join Sky Atlantic in July 2014, at which point BBC Three commissioner Sam Bickley became acting controller.
Until February 2016, the network broadcast on Freeview, digital cable, IPTV and Satellite television platforms, and was on-air from 7 pm to around 4 am each night to share terrestrial television bandwidth with CBBC. In March 2014, as a result of a planned £100 million budget cut across the BBC, it was proposed that BBC Three be discontinued as a television service, and be converted to an over-the-top Internet television service with a smaller programming budget and a focus on short-form productions. Despite significant public opposition, the proposal was provisionally approved by the BBC Trust in June 2015, with a new consultation open until 30 September of that year. The TV channel ceased operations on 16 February 2016, replaced by an online-only version.
|Launched||9 February 2003|
|Closed||16 February 2016|
|Picture format||576i (16:9 SDTV)
|Audience share||1.16% (September 2015, BARB)|
|Replaced by||BBC Three (online)|
In late 2001 the BBC decided to reposition and rebrand their two digital channels so that they could be more closely linked to the well established BBC One and BBC Two. Their plan was for BBC Knowledge to be replaced with BBC Four—which took place in 2002—and for BBC Choice to be replaced with BBC Three. However, questions were raised over the proposed format of the new BBC Three, as some thought the new format would be too similar to the BBC's commercial rivals, namely ITV2 and E4, and would be unnecessary competition. The channel was eventually given the go ahead, eleven months after the original launch date, and launched on 9 February 2003. The channel was launched by Stuart Murphy, who previously ran BBC Choice, and before that UK Play, the now-discontinued UKTV music and comedy channel. At 33, Murphy was still the youngest channel controller in the country, a title he had held since launching UK Play at the age of 26; although on 20 October 2005 it was announced that Murphy was soon to leave the channel to work in commercial television. On 12 May 2011, BBC Three was added to the Sky EPG in the Republic of Ireland on channel 229. It was later moved to channel 210 on 3 July 2012, to free up space for new channels.
For the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympics, BBC Three increased its broadcasting hours to 24 hours to provide extra coverage of Olympic events. Broadcast hours were extended again for the 2014 Commonwealth Games with BBC Three broadcasting from 9:00 am to 4:00 am for the duration of the games. On 16 July 2013 the BBC announced that a high-definition (HD) simulcast of BBC Three would be launched by early 2014. The channel launched on 10 December 2013.
In February 2014 BBC Director-General Tony Hall announced that cuts of £100 million would have to be made at the corporation; Hall stated that the corporation could be forced to close one of its television services as a cost-savings measure. On 5 March 2014 Hall announced a proposal to convert BBC Three to an online-only service, with an almost 50% cut in its programming budget, and a larger emphasis on short form content due to the cut in funding. These changes formed part of a package of proposals from the BBC, including extending CBBC's hours, respending £30m on BBC One audiences for drama, and launching a one-hour timeshift channel of BBC One. There was notable backlash against the measures, with celebrities including Greg James, Matt Lucas and Jack Whitehall speaking out. A petition against the move on change.org has gathered over 300,000 signatures. However, there was some support from media commentators, and those who backed a "slimmer" BBC.
When the BBC revealed the full detail in December 2014, it admitted there was widespread opposition from BBC Three viewers but said there was support for the wider package of proposals. They believed the public welcomed a BBC One +1 as it admits "a vast majority of viewing still takes place on linear channels". The 'Save BBC Three' campaign pointed out this was a contradiction to what the BBC said about BBC Three. The BBC Trust began a 28-day public consultation regarding the plans on 20 January 2015 and it ended with a protest outside Broadcasting House. As part of the consultation a letter of 750 names against the move from the creative industry was sent to the BBC Trust, and this had the backing of a number of celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe, Aidan Turner, Olivia Colman and Lena Headey. The polling company ICM concluded a "large majority" of those that replied to the consultation were against the move with respondents particularly concerned about those who cannot stream programming online, the effect of the content budget cuts, and the BBC's own admission the audience numbers would drop.
The Save BBC Three campaign has argued the transition period is too short and that programmes like Family Guy, Hair, and Don't Tell the Bride have not performed as well on BBC One and BBC Two with the 16-34 year old audience, in comparison to BBC Three. It did not consider the proposals cost-effective because the BBC will need to spend on a new brand and triple advertising budgets to increase awareness of the new service.
Nonetheless the BBC Trust issued its final decision to approve the transition in November 2015, citing the fact that younger audiences have increasingly migrated to online television content as opposed to linear television channels, and the BBC's ability to "deliver more distinctive content online, while bearing down on costs". Conditions were imposed on other BBC properties to compliment the changes; BBC One and Two will be required to develop "distinctive programmes designed for younger audiences", as well as air encores of all full-length programmes that originally premiere on the BBC Three online service. The Trust also approved related proposals to allow first-run and third-party content on iPlayer, as well as extend CBBC's broadcast day to 9:00 p.m. The BBC One timeshift service was rejected, citing "limited public value". Jimmy Mulville and Jon Thoday of independent production companies Hat Trick Productions and Avalon reportedly considered legal action against the Trust if it went ahead with the closure of the channel. They had previously offered to buy the channel to keep it on television, but the BBC said the channel was not up for sale.
BBC Three signed off during the early morning of 16 February 2016. The final programme was an episode of Gavin & Stacey, introduced by co-star James Corden from the Los Angeles studio of The Late Late Show. The channel thereafter carried promotional information regarding the BBC Three internet service until it officially went dark.
The remit of BBC Three is to bring younger audiences to high quality public service broadcasting through a mixed-genre schedule of innovative UK content featuring new UK talent. The channel should use the full range of digital platforms to deliver its content and to build an interactive relationship with its audience. The channel's target audience is 16–34-year-olds.— BBC Three Remit
The channel's target audience was 16–34-year-olds, and it faced heavy competition from rivals including ITV2 and E4, for an audience that the BBC has traditionally had difficulty in attracting. In 2008 it reached 26.3% of 16–34-year-olds in digital homes—the channel's highest ever such reach and above that of E4, ITV2, Dave and Sky 1.
On average, nine million people watched BBC Three every week, and it had a 2.6% share of the 15–34-year-old audience and 1.4% of the whole population, according to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB). These ratings by BARB, the official ratings agency, average out BBC Three's viewing figures over a 24-hour period even though the channel only broadcasts in the evening, giving a distorted sense of the channel's viewership. Despite several official complaints from the BBC, BARB continues to publish figures which the BBC argues are unrepresentative.
BBC Three's programming consisted of comedy, drama, spin-off series and repeated episodes of series from BBC One and BBC Two, and other programmes that attempted to alert others of their actions through a series of programmes challenging common beliefs.
An example of BBC Three's comedy output includes the award-winning comedy Little Britain, which in October 2004 broke its previous viewing record when 1.8 million viewers tuned in for a new series. Little Britain was later broadcast on the BBC's terrestrial analogue channels BBC One and BBC Two. The channels longest-running comedy programme is Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Some current programmes feature stand-up comedians performing their own take on a subject, usually the news, examples of which include Russell Howard's Good News (Now being broadcast on BBC Two, due to success and partly to BBC Three's move to online only) and Lee Nelson's Well Good Show.
The channel aired various comedies and dramas; one of its most popular sitcoms was Gavin & Stacey, which first aired in May 2007 and was written by and starring James Corden and Ruth Jones alongside Mathew Horne, Joanna Page, Alison Steadman and Rob Brydon. The sitcom was an instant hit, with subsequent series being moved to other BBC channels and the show being granted a Christmas special. Another example is Being Human, a drama in which a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf share a flat, which has become a success and heralded several new series. American programming also features, with American Dad! and Family Guy being the notable examples.
Numerous popular series were either repeated on the channel or have spin-offs created from them. In early 2003, viewers could watch episodes of popular BBC soap opera EastEnders on BBC Three before they were broadcast on BBC One. This programming decision coincided with the relaunch of the channel and helped it break the one million viewers milestone for the first time. An episode of EastEnders Revealed, which was commissioned for BBC Three and looking behind the scenes of the programme, attracted 611,000 viewers. In 2005, BBC Three commissioned the documentary series Doctor Who Confidential, which was shown immediately after episodes of the new series of Doctor Who had been screened on BBC One. This was followed up in July 2005, when it began to screen repeats of both programmes.
In October 2005, it was announced that BBC Three had commissioned a spin-off drama series from Doctor Who, Torchwood, designed as a post-watershed science fiction drama for a more adult audience. Torchwood launched with 2.4 million viewers in October 2006. Torchwood is the first science fiction programme ever to have been commissioned by the channel, and its popularity led to it being broadcast on BBC Two for the second series, and on BBC One for subsequent series. In 2010, BBC Three began airing episodes of the fifth series of BBC drama series Waterloo Road after they had aired on BBC One as part of its 'catch-up' programming. From January 2015, BBC Three aired the remaining episodes of Waterloo Road before being repeated on BBC One later the same day.
BBC Three also airs highly acclaimed documentaries reflecting young people's experience of the world, including the BAFTA winning Our War; Blood, Sweat and T-shirts plus subsequent sequels; Life & Death Row and their recent season of films about mental illness. BBC Three also broadcasts specialist factual documentaries, such as How Drugs Work and How Sex Works, plus the critically acclaimed documentary series People Just Do Nothing.
BBC Three has also commissioned a number of notable single one-off documentaries, including Growing Up Down's (2014), My Brother the Islamist (2011), Small Teen Big World (2010); Stormchaser: The Butterfly and the Tornado (2012) and The Autistic Me (2009). Many are commissioned through BBC Three's FRESH scheme; providing an opportunity for 'the next generation of directors' to make their first 60-minute documentary for the channel.
The channel features hourly news updates called 60 Seconds, presented by Sam Naz during the week, which include the top news, sport and entertainment stories. They are presented in a relaxed style in keeping with the rest of the channel. As part of the BBC's discussions with the government regarding the founding of the channel, a longer news programme had been promised to provide a daily section of news and current affairs. The News Show, as it came to be called upon launch, was later rebranded The 7 O'Clock News. However, the BBC discontinued the bulletin in 2005, following a recommendation made in the 2004 Barwise Report, which found that the channel's target audience sought news from elsewhere.
The channel also showed some sports programming. Match of the Day Live broadcast international football matches featuring Wales, often when an England match was being shown on BBC One. The channel also showed some matches of England's Women's team. Highlights of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations were shown on the channel from 20 January to 10 February 2008.
Unscripted and reality
|Rank||Programme||Number of Viewers||Date|
|1||EastEnders Live: The Aftermath||4,537,000||19 February 2010|
|2||Olympics 2012||4,289,000||11 August 2012|
|3||Olympics 2012||2,771,000||1 August 2012|
|4||Torchwood||2,510,000||22 October 2006|
|5||Torchwood||2,498,000||22 October 2006|
|6||Olympics 2012||2,368,000||29 July 2012|
|7||EastEnders: Backstage Live||2,257,000||20 February 2015|
|8||Olympics 2012||2,162,000||4 August 2012|
|9||Match of the Day Live||2,069,000||26 June 2013|
|10||Weakest Link: EastEnders Special||2,005,000||19 February 2010|
The channel's original idents were conceived by Stefan Marjoram at Aardman Animations and were used from launch until February 2008. Stuart Murphy was touring Aardman Animations looking for new programming ideas for BBC Three when he spotted the cone shaped creatures, he then took the idea back to the Lambie-Nairn agency, responsible for the BBC Three identity package. A feature of this identity is also the music "Three Is The Magic Number", based (only the lyrics are copied) upon Schoolhouse Rock!.
BBC Online provided a number of downloads and activities based on the channel's identity, these included "BlobMate", screensavers, wallpapers and also games such as BlobLander and BlobBert. The idea used by both Lambie-Nairn, who had developed the branding for CBeebies and CBBC, and Aardman, was to create the BBC Three blobs as a relation to the green and yellow blobs of the children's channels. Up until they rebranded the channel, it had two continuity announcers, Kieron Elliott and Lola Buckley. Currently the channel's announcers are Gavin Inskip and Jen Long with out-of-vision continuity presented live during peak time.
On 22 January 2008 a new channel identity was unveiled. Rebranding was carried out by Red Bee Media, along with agencies MPG and Agency Republic with music and sound design by creative audio company Koink.
The Discovery idents were introduced in October 2013 and lasted until January 2016, retaining the logo from 2008. The idents follow the theme of "discovery", and were designed by Claire Powell at Red Bee Media. The soundtrack for the idents was composed by Chris Branch and Tom Haines at Brains & Hunch.
On 4 January 2016, alongside the announcement of the date on which the channel will become an internet-only service, a third logo was unveiled. Inspired by the iconography of mobile applications, the new logo incorporates the Roman numeral for the number 3, with the third bar replaced by an exclamation mark. Marketing head Nikki Carr explained that the three bars represented the three principles of BBC Three as a service; making viewers "think", "laugh", and have a voice.
The channel has had critical and popular successes. Most recently, it won Broadcast Magazine's Digital Channel of the Year Award for Best General Entertainment Channel, and MGEITF Non Terrestrial Channel of the Year.
It won more awards in its eleven-year broadcast history than its commercial rivals (Sky 1, Sky Living, E4, ITV2, Channel 5 and Comedy Central) have won in their combined 25-year history. In total BBC Three has won 7 BAFTA awards, 5 British Comedy Awards, 15 Royal Television Society Awards and 5 Rose d'Or Awards since the channel was launched in February 2003.
The channel has also come in for criticism from several corners, the most prominent of which are some of the BBC's long-standing presenters. These include John Humphrys, who argued that BBC Three and BBC Four should be shut down in the face of budget cuts to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, which he presents, John Sweeney of Panorama, and Jeremy Paxman are among other journalists who have also criticised the channel and its content.
In July 2010 a UK music magazine printed a letter from the pressure group Friends of Radio 3 that criticised BBC Three for having 'comedies, game shows, films and documentaries, but no arts programming at all'. In a later issue another correspondent endorsed this assessment on the basis of a search through issues of the Radio Times, and cast doubt on the BBC's claim (in the document Performance Against Public Commitments 2009/10) that the channel broadcast '54 hours of new music and arts programming' in that year. Two months later the same correspondent wrote in to inform readers that the BBC had refused his 'Freedom of Information' request concerning the titles of the programmes used in calculating the '54 hours' total.