Wednesday 20 May 2020 1:02 pm

BBC Three could return as on-air channel after Normal People and Fleabag success

BBC Three could be brought back on air as the broadcaster looks to capitalise on a string of recent hits that have resonated with its vital youth audience.

The channel was taken off linear TV and became online-only four years ago to save £30m, with the BBC arguing that young people were increasingly watching shows online.

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But after the success of programmes such as Normal People, Fleabag and Killing Eve, the corporation is now considering reviving the broadcast channel.

“Our research evidence shows that there is a big available audience on linear television and the BBC could reach them if we move decisively,” the broadcaster said in its annual plan published today.

“So there is potentially a strong case for restoring BBC Three as a linear channel as well as an online destination.”

Regardless of the decision, BBC Three will have its programming budget doubled.

The move comes as the public service broadcaster looks to double down on its youth audience, which has been in steady decline over recent years.

In a damning report last year media watchdog Ofcom warned the BBC was at risk of a “lost generation” as 16 to 24-year-olds increasingly turn to streaming services at the broadcaster’s expense.

But the ramping up of youth programming will lead to cuts to other BBC services.

Last week it emerged that BBC Four could be closed down as part of the broadcaster’s plans to revamp its output and plug a £125m black hole in its finances caused by Covid-19.

The highbrow channel, which has an average viewer age of 62, has a content budget of £44m but accounts for less than two per cent of the nation’s viewing.

However, the BBC has said it has no plans to close the arts channel. In its annual plan the corporation said it was considering launching BBC Four as a commercial streaming service outside the UK.

Read more: BBC Four faces closure as TV bosses battle £125m Covid-19 shortfall

Youth-focused BBC Three was launched in 2003 and made its name through hit series such as Gavin & Stacey and Little Britain.

Its recent run of success culminated in Normal People — the hit drama adapted from Sally Rooney’s novel — which racked up more than 16m views on BBC iPlayer in its first week, driving BBC Three to its best week ever.